Why the Winnipeg Jets hired Scott Arniel as their next head coach

Newly appointed Winnipeg Jets head coach Scott Arniel joins the Jeff Marek show to discuss his plans for the Jets now as bench boss and how different or similar it will look to Rick Bowness' Jets teams.

Scott Arniel has spent the past 12 years wondering if he would ever get a second chance behind the bench of an NHL club.

The former NHL winger had little success as a first-time head coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets beginning in 2010 — a tenure that lasted just 123 games before Arniel was fired halfway through his second season with a combined 45 wins under his belt.

“There’s some great coaches in our league right now that got a second chance and a third chance, who are having great success,” Arniel said Monday as he sat before the press in Winnipeg, Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff to his left and his second chance officially secured three days prior. “And I’d like to think that I’ve learned a lot over these past years that are gonna help me move forward.”

Arniel’s hiring, made official by the team on Friday following the retirement of Rick Bowness earlier this off-season, didn’t exactly come as a surprise considering he’d served as an associate under Bowness for two years and was widely viewed as a strong candidate to take over once the veteran coach stepped down. And his history in Winnipeg dates back further than the past two seasons.

Arniel began his playing career with the Jets in 1981 upon being drafted by the club 22nd overall. He began his coaching career in the same market, as an assistant with the Manitoba Moose after hanging up his skates. Winnipeg is where he met his wife, and where the couple raised their two kids.

[brightcove videoID=6353766426112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Arniel, 61, recognized the “full-circle” moment on Monday, calling the appointment “extremely special.”

“This is probably the greatest personal chapter for me, to become the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets,” he said.

Cheveldayoff: “Sometimes the best options are within”

If this month’s coaching search felt different from the wide-open, culture-shifting search of two years ago, it’s because it was. The club’s success under Bowness over the past two seasons, recording 46 wins in 2022-23 and 52 this year, indicated to management that sweeping change wasn’t the right move this time around. A new voice was necessary in the wake of Bowness’s retirement, but they wanted it to be a familiar one.

It’s a hiring that indicates a team happy with the status quo — at least, as far as regular-season success goes — and as Cheveldayoff said Monday, that status quo for this club looks pretty good.

“It wasn’t like we were looking to reinvent this team, we weren’t looking to take it from one kind of a coach to another. We were looking to know that the foundation that we had in place was going to continue to be built upon,” explained Cheveldayoff, who also interviewed Arniel for the job two years ago before naming him as an associate on Bowness’s staff.

“It was a very tough conversation for us to have at that point in time when we didn’t make him the head coach at that point,” Cheveldayoff said of the interview process two years earlier. “I felt our team needed a little bit more of an experienced guiding hand in [Bowness], but it was really important that we had Arnie by his side at that time because we knew at some point in time, obviously, that Bones’ career was going to take a different direction.”

[brightcove videoID=6353768019112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

While the path was there for Arniel, Cheveldayoff made it clear that nothing had been promised to Arniel at that time or throughout the past two years.

“He’s sitting here today because he’s earned this opportunity,” the GM said.

This time around, said Cheveldayoff, the Jets formally interviewed three people (including Arniel) for the vacancy and also added that he’d gleaned insights from players about the club’s coaching situation during exit interviews following their first-round exit last month.

Jets management spent nearly an entire day with Arniel during their interview process — the most in-depth of the bunch, said Cheveldayoff — and discussed the evolution of both the team and the coach.

“He showed a lot of vulnerability and opened up a lot about the Columbus experience and just where he’s grown, who’s been most influential,” said Cheveldayoff. “But the most important part of that process was that he came in with a plan for almost every single player. It was clear, right then and there, that Arnie was not only thoughtful about the X’s and O’s and about the organization but he had a chance to be a guy that could exact some change in some of these players because he’s been with them, he’s grown, he’s built that relationship, he’s had hard conversations with them.”

He’s also served as their head coach on occasion, including this past fall when Bowness took a leave of absence from the team after his wife, Judy, suffered a stroke. 

“Over 25 games over the past two years, he’s led [the team],” said Cheveldayoff. “It was that confidence that I think really helped us, and I think really helped him.”

Arniel said that the experience filling in for Bowness was instrumental in helping his regain his confidence as a head coach. The challenge for Arniel will now be centred around taking a club rejuvenated under Bowness that past two years and helping usher it into a chapter defined by long post-season runs through holding players accountable and making necessary adjustments in a tough Central Division.

[brightcove videoID=6353770829112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Arniel addresses learning journey since Columbus

“I think I went into Columbus a young, green coach,” Arniel told reporters Monday when asked about his growth over the decade-plus since his time with the Blue Jackets. “You think maybe you have all the answers. But I think in these last 12 years, I’ve had a chance to work with some great people and learn what it takes to win in this league. It’s a hard league. Whether it’s relationships with players, how I work with management, how I deal with the media — those are all things that I’ve been able to be around people that have done it.”

One of those people, the now-retired Bowness, gave the newly promoted coach a giant vote of confidence after news of the appointment was release.

“He’s been a huge help to me over the past few years,” Bowness said Friday while appearing as a guest panelist on Sportsnet. “He’s more than prepared to take over this job.”

Bowness said he believes Arniel will “continue and build what we’ve done the past couple of years” — a pair of seasons that saw Winnipeg post winning regular seasons only to be ousted quickly in Round 1 of the post-season. The Jets lost to the Vegas Golden Knights last spring in five games, and to Colorado this year in the same fashion.

[brightcove videoID=6353769435112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

“Hopefully he can have more playoff success than I did,” said Bowness, “but he’s more than ready for this job. He’s going to do a great job for the Winnipeg Jets.”

More clarity still to come on Jets’ coaching staff

Cheveldayoff also announced on Monday that the team was parting ways with assistant coach Brad Lauer. The GM said the decision was made mutually between club and coach.

Arniel indicated a desire to explore many different avenues when it comes to shaping his own coaching staff around him, with the process getting underway this week. He said he’ll likely be looking for someone who can run point on the power play, as well as a defensive specialist. He won’t be building his staff from scratch, though, as assistants Marty Johnston and Wade Flaherty will remain with the team.

Once his staff is in place, Arniel also stated his desire to hold a summertime summit on analytics to ensure the franchise is on the same page when it comes to using analytics to better educate decisions.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.