The Dallas Stars announced that coach Rick Bowness will be stepping aside, effective immediately. His contract was set to expire at the end of this season, which by league standards is roughly June 30th (or after the Stanley Cup Final is done).
“I’d like to thank all the passionate fans and the dedicated staff for their support and hard work in my time here,” Bowness said in the Stars’ press release. “It has been an honor for me, and my family, to represent the Stars and the city of Dallas.”
By stepping aside, Bowness is basically allowing the Stars to begin their head coach search immediately, before the draft and free agency preparation gets too far underway.
At the end of season media availability after the Stars were eliminated in Game 7 of the first round of the Western Conference Playoffs, Bowness and general manager Jim Nill were non-committal about the coach’s future with the organization. Nill cited the need to meet with team ownership to determine which way the team would choose to go with his contract expiring.
Bowness still has the desire to coach, and was confident that if he wants to continue being behind a bench, there will be opportunities for him, whether that was in Dallas or somewhere else in the NHL. But winning wasn’t the only thing that drives Bowness, who has always been spoken of in respectful tones by the players in the locker room.
“[The Stanley Cup] is still the driving force,” Bowness said. “But as you get older, you also want to leave an impact on the game, and that legacy becomes just as important to me. Do I want a Cup? Absolutely. Is it going to define me? No. I won’t let it. Being an impact on their lives, and not just being a coach and trying to make them better, that means more to me than having my name on the Cup. It does.”
Bowness choked up a little bit during his ending availability, possibly because he knew it could be the last time he’d be leading this group of players who he has grown so close to. You do that after facing all the adversity this team has faced the past three seasons, between Jim Montgomery’s abrupt firing, a Winter Classic, a tailspin, a season ended due to COVID-19 pandemic, an unexpected Stanley Cup Final run in a bubble where they stayed for more than 65 days, ice storms, COVID outbreaks, season- and career-ending injuries, and all the other little ups and downs experienced through an 82-game grind.
“Thank y’all, it’s been a pleasure,” Bowness said at the end of the availability. “I’m telling you, you’re going to miss me. You don’t know it yet, but you’re going to miss me.”
What is clear is that Bowness, the person, will be missed in Dallas. He had the respect of players in the locker room, and always treated them as people first - not robotic athletes.
“Rick is one of the most respected and beloved individuals to have ever coached in the NHL,” Nill said via Stars PR. “His dedication and commitment to the game, and the impact that he’s made on countless players, coaches and support staff throughout his five decades in the League is unmatched. He has dedicated his life to our game, and we are honored to say that the Dallas Stars are part of his legacy. When he was called upon to lead our team a few seasons ago, he stepped into the role seamlessly and helped guide our team through unprecedented global events that affected our players and staff both on and off the ice. On behalf of the entire organization, I want to wish Rick, Judy and the rest of their family nothing but the best moving forward.”
With Bowness’ departure, the organization also moved on from Derek Laxdal, who was in charge of the power play, John Stevens, who coached the defense, and assistant coach Todd Nelson.
Video coaches Kelly Forbes and Matt Rodell and goaltending coach Jeff Reese will remain in their roles. Which makes sense - Forbes is one of the best in the league, and Reese has done an incredible job with Jake Oettinger so far. There’s absolutely no reason to mess with those roles when things are going well in those regards.
Nill is entering the last year of his contract as general manager of the Stars. He’s made several coaching changes - Lindy Ruff, Ken Hitchcock, Jim Montgomery, Rick Bowness - during his tenure. With the core of the team shifting to a future built around Oettinger, Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, and Miro Heiskanen, the next coaching hire will be pivotal in whether this team can truly “build on the fly” or if there are some pieces that have to be torn down to be rebuilt into a team that can consistently compete.
The clock is already ticking to find that next bench boss.