Rick Bowness sent a loud and clear message after the Winnipeg Jets were eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the players wished the head coach had taken a different approach to dealing with the situation.
In a press conference that lasted just one minute after the Jets’ 4-1 loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5 of their first-round series, Bowness took a serious shot at the team’s core group.
“I’m so disappointed and disgusted right now, that’s my thoughts,” Bowness said.
“No pushback. But it’s the same crap we saw in February. It was. As soon as we were challenging for first place and teams were coming after us, we had no pushback. This series we had no pushback. Their better players were so much better than ours, it’s not even close.”
The comments clearly struck a nerve in the locker room especially with forward Blake Wheeler, who had the captaincy taken away from him by Bowness just a couple of months after he was hired in July 2022.
Wheeler believes the comments put the players in a tough position since they were disappointed with their effort as a group because of the work they put in.
“I thought that Rick had an opportunity to address us as a team. And you know, because now we have to answer that question, right,” Wheeler explained. “He could have been honest with us, we could have had those discussions behind closed doors. So I didn’t I didn’t agree with how he handled himself after that game.”
Kyle Connor said players understand Bowness is an emotional person and believe if given the chance he would have gone about it a different way.
Now the question going forward in Winnipeg is what direction the team plans to take with its core.
Many Jets players made it known that they don’t have the same desire to be a part of a rebuild should the front office go in that direction including goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.
“My main goal is to win the Stanley Cup and I’m starting to run out of time and I can feel it,” Hellebuyck said when asked about whether he would be a part of a rebuild. “…I haven’t thought about negotiations at all. I think that’s a better question for Kevin Chevyeldayoff.
“For me, I keep saying every year I just want to win a Cup. So I don’t know what the future this team’s gonna look like. I don’t know what their plans are and I don’t know if I’m in it. To be honest, I’m not sure what they’re thinking, as far as I’m concerned, I’m going to give everything I have wherever I am. If they decide to move me it’s their call. Time is on my side. I got a whole summer so I’m not in any rush.”
Hellebuyck has one more year remaining on his contract and will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2023-24 season along with Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Nino Niederreiter.