Rick Bowness was quick to scoff that he was described as worse when asked how Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Sheffieldjof described the decision to overhaul the coaching staff in the off-season.
But for the man who admits he’s not in the rankings, it’s clear that the new Jets coach will need to make a significant impact on his new team until Winnipeg returns to the Stanley Cup playoffs.
said Bowness, whose enthusiasm was in full display during two sessions of teaching Thursday. “The reasonable goal is that we don’t have a choice, we have to prepare for the season. So like we talked with the players, every day you come to the rink you better be ready to work, you better be ready to think, you better be ready to buy.
“Because that is what will happen on October 14, who buys more, who does more, who pays more attention and who is on the page. Everything is on the inside. Everything means attention every day.”
To no one’s surprise, the man who’s been in the NHL game as a player or coach for five decades (and counting) is up for the challenge.
No, this isn’t a hard-core approach, my way or the highway—bounce is too strong to run into that way—but on the first day of sessions on the snow at boot camp, you didn’t need a roadmap to see the planes go in a different direction.
When Bowness says players go into the season with a clean slate, it’s not just talk.
Whatever previous hierarchy is outside the window, ice time will be distributed on merit.
Whether you’re an experienced player looking for a boosting role or a youngster trying to become a regular in the National Hockey League, Bowness is looking for players who will make a lasting impression.
“We missed playoffs last year, so it’s wide open,” said Bowness. “Everything works for me. We have a new coaching staff, I’ve seen a lot of these guys (as an opposition coach), so anybody comes in here thinking ‘Oh, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that, it’s a given,’ – that’s not a given.
“We missed the playoffs. We have a new staff, so we will give everyone a good look. And the guys we see and we see good things in practice, we will give them a good look.”
Just one week after the public announcement that veteran striker Blake Wheeler was stripped of the captaincy, the Gates players publicly commented on the matter. While the required amount of respect was paid for the job he did in this role, I also felt that some players were definitely looking forward to the opportunity to have a higher voice in this team effort.
“I am an older man now. I am 26 years old,” said Nikolaj Eilers. I’m ready to take on more responsibility and I think we have a lot of guys ready to take that step.” “To be able to have 25 guys, I think that would go a long way. I wasn’t the loudest guy in the room. I’m trying to do my best out there and show it off on the ice, but I think I’ve realized I have things to say as well and I’m ready to take that step.”
The change with who wears the letters isn’t the only shift in philosophy being implemented with the new coaching staff.
Not only do the Jets plan to play aggressively in all three regions, Bowness expects the Blues’ players to be more involved after collecting just 24 goals last season.
That doesn’t mean Gates plans to throw caution to the wind and drastically raise the stakes – attackers will need to do their part in terms of coverage for this plan to work.
Jets goalkeeper Conor Helbwick is keen to implement this plan and not only because it will help him make life a little easier when it comes to the amount and quality of shots he encounters.
“I will do whatever it takes to win matches,” Hellebuyck said. “When a new coach comes along with a proven philosophy, I subscribe to it, so I’m really excited about where we’re going and that’s just the beginning.”
Finally, on a day when optimism is the mood and excitement is a word that is tossed by nearly everyone standing in front of the microphone, Cheveldayoff has essentially let the rest of the NHL know he’s still open for business.
Yes, the relative inactivity in this off-season can be seen as a vote of confidence for his core group – and it was in many ways – but that doesn’t mean Cheveldayoff is still actively looking for ways to improve this team, perhaps even before the season opener on October 14 against the New York Rangers.
“Some things have to come into play as well. There will be opportunity here and competition, so things may change,” Sheffieldev said. I know for a fact, this group knows they have something to prove.”
It wasn’t Chifeldaev’s effort to publicly notify his players, it’s not his style, but the message he gave was similar to that written by Bowness later in the afternoon.
Last season’s results weren’t good enough and things will need to change quickly.
“I feel like we have the play-off team. Whether you feel it, or feel it, they should feel it,” Sheffieldev said. “We’ve been sitting here 12 months ago and the general consensus about the team was not if we were going to play the playoffs, it was about how many rounds they should win. This team. Something got lost in translation along the way. You have to earn that right to make the playoffs. These guys feel it now.
“There are a lot of really great pieces in this team. To become a team, it’s about putting those pieces together. It’s about working together as a team. It’s about playing for each other. It’s about all those kinds of things. You get all the parts, But you have to put it together.”
As for the story surrounding this group and the group of players with contracts due to expire in the summer of 2024, Cheveldayoff had no interest in going down that path.
“I don’t think we’re focused on anything other than what’s right in front of us,” Chifeldaev said. “We started trying to talk about two years from now, (there is) a lot of grandstand now and then. Obviously in the (kick-off) meetings, we talked about setting a standard and pushing each other to support that standard.”
Reaching and sticking to that standard is definitely on the players’ minds, as they don’t want a repeat of last season’s performance when the Jets failed to meet internal and external expectations.
“We talked about it until our face was blue, really, about the frustration, the disappointment last season, the feeling we didn’t hit the mark and we could have done more, so now it’s about us,” Gates defender Josh Morrissey said. “We have an excited new team, we are excited and we have another chance to show that we are a good team and that we are a team that can have the playoffs on our minds.
“As a player, that is the confidence you want from your organization. Now is the time for us to buy into the systems, buy into our coaching staff and go to another level that we think we can reach.”