Rick Bowness stepping away as Dallas Stars head coach

Rick Bowness stepping away as Dallas Stars head coach

The Stars will have a new head coach next season.

Rick Bowness stepped away as the Stars coach on Friday afternoon, the team announced, days after the Stars’ season ended with a first-round loss to Calgary on Sunday. Bowness’ contract expired after this season.

The Stars also announced that three assistant coaches will not be returning next season: Derek Laxdal, John Stevens and Todd Nelson. Laxdal ran the team’s power play, Stevens handled the team’s defensemen and Nelson acted as the club’s “eye in the sky” in the press box during games.

Video coach Kelly Forbes, assistant video coach Matt Rodell and goaltending coach Jeff Reese were not affected by Friday’s moves. Stars general manager Jim Nill said the search for a new head coach would begin immediately.

“After careful consideration with my wife Judy, we feel it’s best to step away and allow the organization the opportunity to pursue a different direction at the head coaching position,” Bowness said in a statement.

“I’d like to thank all the passionate fans and the dedicated staff for their support and hard work in my time here. It has been an honor for me, and my family, to represent the Stars and the city of Dallas.”

Bowness, 67, was the Stars’ coach for parts of three seasons after taking over when Jim Montgomery was fired in December 2019. Under Bowness, the Stars went 89-62-25, a .577 points percentage that was 16th in the NHL.

In the playoffs, Bowness guided the Stars to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final and an 18-16 postseason record. This season, the Stars lost in seven games to the Flames.

“Rick is one of the most respected and beloved individuals to have ever coached in the NHL,” Nill said in a statement. “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.”

Bowness has coached more NHL games than anyone else in league history, either as an assistant or as a head coach. The personable and generally easy-going Bowness was popular among Stars players. Friday’s announcement was not a retirement one by Bowness, who expressed earlier this week that “there’s still lots of fire left in me.”

The Bowness Era will mostly be remembered by the run to the Cup Final in the Edmonton bubble, and the odd circumstances he had to deal with across three seasons at the helm. He took over after Montgomery’s mysterious firing in 2019. He dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and 2021. There were multiple coronavirus outbreaks on the Stars roster. He went through the 2021 season that was populated by injuries to top players.

His time will be marked by a lack of offense.

The Stars ranked 30th in the NHL under Bowness with 2.13 goals per 60 minutes at 5 on 5. They were a middling team that generated average to below-average quality scoring chances, and finished those chances as one of the worst teams in the league.

Young offensive weapons struggled to gain trust within the coaching staff due to inconsistent play and poor decisions. Older, defensive-minded players had longer leashes despite a lack of offensive production.

The Stars were also one of the best defensive teams in the league under Bowness, unless they were protecting a lead.

Dallas ranked third by allowing just 2.19 goals per 60 minutes at 5 on 5. They were a top-10 team in shots allowed, and a top-5 team in expected goals and scoring chances allowed. They paired strong defense with Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin’s strong 2019-20, and the recent emergence of Jake Oettinger.

While it may be logical to think that an offensive-minded coach is on their way to Dallas to follow Bowness’ defensive-oriented approach, Nill said earlier this week that a defensive identity will still be crucial to the Stars.

“Do we need to score more?” Nill said Tuesday. “Yes, and that’s something we’ve got to build on and find that, but you cannot lose that identity. You’re not going to win in this league, just not going to win.”

In the past three seasons, as Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin declined, Bowness and his staff struggled to find answers to generate more offense outside of the superb top line of Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz and Joe Pavelski. The scoring issues remain, and it’ll be up to Nill to provide the right players, and the next coach to put them in the right positions.

Friday’s decision also brings up Nill’s future. The next head coach will be the fifth one hired with Nill as the Stars GM, following Lindy Ruff, Ken Hitchcock, Montgomery and Bowness.

Nill only has one year remaining on his contract, a situation that a new coach would not want to walk into, knowing their boss could only be around for one season. Does the coaching search point towards an extension for Nill?

Nill has set up the Stars well with a core centered around Robertson, Oettinger, Hintz and Miro Heiskanen. Dallas’ prospect pool has top-end players like Wyatt Johnston and Mavrik Bourque that could become NHL contributors next season. The Benn and Seguin contracts are eyesores, undoubtedly, and contracts to veterans might run a season or two too long, but Nill’s recent drafting could set him up to guide the next window of contention for the Stars.

What comes next for Stars if Rick Bowness, Jim Nill aren’t back in 2022-23?

Find more Stars coverage from The Dallas Morning News here.

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