Today’s daily gratitude goes out to Winnipeg Jets’ coach Rick Bowness.
There wouldn’t be much point in doing this job if there weren’t a few like him left – hockey guys who speak publicly in the same unhinged way they do in private.
If there are no Bownesses left, we might as well conduct this business by news release. Let ChatGPT do the postgame presser. Put an Alexa up on a podium and let it tell us how the boys showed a lot of heart tonight and no one’s more upset about the result than they are.
After the Jets surrendered their first-round series in Vegas the other night, most coaches would have been sad about it. But not Bowness. He was incandescent. When the team’s night ended, his game began.
Without any prompting, Bowness told reporters he was “disappointed” by his guys. Also, “disgusted.” They had “no pushback.” It was the “same crap” as the team’s late-in-the-regular-season swoon.
Perhaps most hurtful of all: “Their better players were so much better than ours, it’s not even close.”
It’s a subjective opinion, but it’s being voiced by someone who would know. Bowness has been in the league for about a hundred years. He’s coached a million teams.
If he can’t speak authoritatively to a team’s will to win, then there is no point in ever discussing such things. You might as well not have a coach at all. Just let the players arrange via group chat when to meet the bus at the hotel every night and then figure it out on the ride to the arena.
But nobody likes a hard truth in the NHL. For a bunch of people who make their living as entertainers, they don’t seem to understand how entertainment works. It’s the good and the bad. People like both things. Too much of one or the other gets boring.
After Bowness, his players got up on the podium to sulk.
The keynote was left to veteran Blake Wheeler. Choosing his words so carefully that he was speaking at 33 RPMs, Wheeler laid bare the group’s hurt feelings: “I thought that Rick had an opportunity to address us as a team, because now we have to answer that question …”
It went on like that for a long time. If the Jets had a sense of theatre, they would’ve hired a string quartet to accompany him.
We get it. You don’t like it. Then just say that.
Instead, Wheeler complained about “how [Bowness] handled himself” and then said, “I know that our performance in Game 5 wasn’t up to a standard that we would have liked it to have been.”
So what you’re actually saying here is that Bowness was right.
We can argue about the way he said it, but his core point – that the Jets pooched it – was, according to the Jets, correct. So what are we complaining about? That he wasn’t nice enough about it? That’s your beef?
What would you do if you heard your boss got up at a corporate retreat and told everyone he was “disgusted” by your latest quarterly report? Would you take it? I hope not. What I hope you’d do is write an angry, companywide e-mail rant that begins, “Me? He’s blaming me?? Let me tell you all about Mr. It’s-Five-O-Clock-And-I’ve-Got-Places-to-Be’s work habits …”
That’s just one lede idea. It’s hard to go wrong if the insults are sharp enough.
No one should be talked about in a derogatory way in the workplace. Except for this one. The NHL isn’t a faculty lounge. It’s a fighting pit. Wherever NHLers are, they are on stage. The more combative the approach, the better the show.
Bowness did his job – tossing Wheeler & Co. a big, fat underhand pitch. They decided they were too upset to swing at it. Which, again, goes some distance to proving Bowness’s point – no pushback.
However, the real disappointment is that after saying what he actually thought, Bowness took half of it back. He called an emergency presser to put out the fire he’d started.
“One of my many faults is that I’m too emotional and wear my heart on my sleeve …” he began, and kept on like that for even longer than Wheeler had.
Is ‘wear my heart on my sleeve’ the new ‘I tell it like it is’? Because nobody likes those people. You ever notice how no one ever wears their heart on their sleeve when they’re asking you for a favour? They only wear their heart on their sleeve after you’ve turned them down.
“I criticize myself for the choice of words,” Bowness said.
So it’s now your fault that it’s their fault, which is also your fault, or …?
This whole ‘I didn’t really mean it the way I said it’ business makes everyone look silly. It makes Bowness seem like a man who isn’t in full control of himself. Really, what other job does a head coach have?
Assuming Bowness is back next season, it makes his players look like drips. They got called out in the crudest possible terms short of actual swear words and the best they could do was, ‘In future, if you’re going to insult us, we’d prefer you insult us in private.’
It makes the Jets executive look feckless. Now they have a mediocre team that doesn’t try hard enough and a coach who feels bad about pointing that out.
What’s the net result of this domestic squabble? Apparently, it’s deciding that no one is to blame. For any of it.
Bowness feels bad for saying it, the Jets feel bad for hearing it and no one is responsible for the team lying down and dying in five games. It just sort of happened.
All they can do now is hope for a different result from the same people doing the same things in the same way.
But as long as no one is made to feel bad about themselves in return for millions and millions of dollars, and nothing newsworthy is ever said by people who are paid to be interesting, I’m sure it’ll all turn out fine.