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Head Coach Hunt: Rick Bowness Presents Intriguing Option For Anaheim

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NHL: Dallas Stars at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Rick Bowness

Age: 64

NHL Record: 123-289-48-3

Rick Bowness has been a hockey coach for a long time. His first season as a professional head coach was all the way back in 1982, where he acted as a player-coach for the long defunct Sherbrooke Jets of the AHL. By age 34, only six seasons later, he had already landed his first NHL head coaching gig. To call Bowness a hockey “lifer” is really the only way to describe him. The current Dallas Star’s assistant coach has been involved in pro hockey either as a coach or a player since 1975. Now, he has an opportunity to write a new chapter in his long career, as TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported Wednesday that the Anaheim Ducks will be interviewing him for their vacant head coaching position.

Where does a 64-year old hockey lifer really fit with an Anaheim team that appears to be intent on embarking upon a youth movement? Younger names like Dallas Eakins and Todd Nelson have also been connected to the Ducks’ job, offering a clear indication at what type of candidate Ducks’ general manager Bob Murray is targeting. Eakins has long thought to be the favorite, while Lane Lambert’s name has also been bandied about. Is Bowness’s candidacy an honest attempt at due diligence by Murray? His recent track record suggests it definitely ought to be.

Bowness has been credited with guiding along Miro Heiskanen in his first season in Dallas, while also grooming Victor Hedman during his Tampa Bay tenure. A defensive tactician, Bowness’s squads have been generally stout in their own end. Dallas ranked ninth in expected goals against per 60 minutes of five-on-five play this past season, while his Tampa Bay teams were only outside of the top-seven once in that category during his five-year term there from 2013 to 2018.

Clearly, he had no shortage of talent to work with in either situation, even going back to his very successful run alongside Alain Vigneault in Vancouver from 2006 to 2013. Coaches often get blamed for their team’s failures, but they should also get a fair amount of praise when things do go well. It’s difficult to argue with Bowness’s recent resume as an assistant. His head coaching resume? Well, it’s not quite as rosy, though it does highlight how much luck can play into a successful coaching career. He was tasked with leading the expansion Ottawa Senators in the early 1990’s, a fool’s errand for even the savviest of coaches.

Two other scattered cameos in Long Island during the late 1990’s and Phoenix in 2003-4 did not bear fruit either. Again, there probably was not going to be a coach to turn those moribund situations around. So is Bowness incapable of being an NHL head coach? There definitely is no way of knowing from those odious samples. If nothing else, Bowness’s resume looks like one that’s been well managed. He has stuck around in good situations (Tampa Bay, Vancouver), and bolted more quickly from less desirable situations (Ottawa, New York).

Anaheim qualifies as a good situation for Bowness. Although there is no Heiskanen or Hedman waiting to be turned into a star for him on the back end, a guy like Brendan Guhle does have the potential to be a good NHL defenseman. Jacob Larsson, who has flailed between San Diego and Anaheim, would probably also benefit from some added defensive structure. The Ducks have a bevy of up-and-coming talent up front that seems to be poised to take the next step, with names like Max Comtois, Troy Terry, and Sam Steel as headliners. To boot, they have a Vezina-worthy goaltender in John Gibson, who could see his game raised to new heights with a little more insulation. Ben Bishop, who has back-stopped Bowness teams in both Tampa Bay and Dallas, has certainly seen his stock rise behind that structure.

The Ducks were a truly awful team in their own zone in 2018-19, an issue that Bowness is obviously qualified to remedy in a big way. The real question then becomes how he can elevate Anaheim’s young crop of forwards. Although known as a defensive mind, there is reason to believe he could answer that call as well

Bowness, though the oldest of Anaheim’s coaching candidates, does seem to have an ability to understand and work with young players. In an interview with The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro for a story about Heiskanen, he explained that he barely did any video work with the young Finn:

“No, [with] most young D you are breaking down video every game. Miro’s hockey IQ is so high, we talked a lot during the games. You say, ‘You see that Miro?’ And he gets it. He sees those things. We do a lot of team video with everybody, but we’ve never sat down with just him to go over video”.

Players of any age, let alone younger players, just need simple instructions at times, and Bowness seems to understand that. He has also been described as an excellent communicator; the kind of coach who can form individually-tailored relationships. In an era where forming a rapport with individuals for the benefit of the collective is at a premium, Bowness certainly seems to be with the times despite his relative grizzle.

Murray appears intent on performing a thorough search before naming a head coach. Ducks’ ownership reportedly favors Eakins. Ultimately, all roads may lead to Eakins. However, Bowness presents a perfectly qualified option, a man who seems to have learned to blend both the new and old schools of thought. The stars have rarely aligned perfectly for him as a head coach, however. With the way Murray has gotten things, that alignment just might be coming his way sooner rather than later.