The summer of 2022 was “Hot to Trotz” for the Winnipeg Jets. It was a rare Black Swan event, wherein fans, pundits, and the Jets organization seemed unified in a single goal – solidify Barry Trotz as the next head coach of the Winnipeg Jets. In the end, Trotz opted for unemployment, and the Jets unceremoniously brought in former Winnipeg Jets coach and NHL journeyman – Rick Bowness.
Expectations were low, but almost immediately, a palpable shift occurred. The team, which seemed in disarray both publicly and privately at the end of the 2022 season, was suddenly rife with optimism. The “vibes” were off the charts positive.
Blake Wheeler was stripped of his captaincy, but Winnipeg Jets players new and old seemed to embrace the hockey version of the Boston Celtics ‘ubuntu’. There was renewed vigor, and that transformation resulted in a tremendous start to the season, despite injuries to several key Jets.
How have the Winnipeg Jets done with coach Rick Bowness?
With a renewed dedication to defense, and a leveling-up by Scheifele, PLD, Morrissey and Hellebuyck – the Jets came out of the gate running. But how much have the Jets improved from last year?
Under Coach Bones, the penalty kill improved, going from 4th worst in the league (75%) to 3rd best in 2022 (84%). The Jets are also getting better shot quality on offence and better shot quantity on defense. The chart below illustrates the strides the Jets have made defensively and on the PK:
An additional key to the Jets’ success this year has been goaltending. Hellebuyck has been El Fuego:
What else? Their powerplay, adjusted Fenwick, and defensive zone giveaways have been similar to last year, but comprehensively, the Jets are statistically better than last year.
Yet, amidst several extended losing streaks, the honeymoon seems to be over. Roster decisions of a Maurice-level nature have surfaced. Ehlers’ lack of ice time was covered here, but other puzzling decisions have surfaced.
On Monday, Dylan Samberg was benched for Logan Stanley. This is simply bad decision-making. The Jets beat the surging Rangers, and Stanley performed decently, but mistaking results over process is foolhardy. Here are Stanley and Samberg’s season metrics:
The powerplay has also been a source of concern. Dallas fans can attest that Rick Bowness’ forte does not rest with offensive scheming. However, and to be fair, throughout the Jets’ recent struggles, they have seen a steady increase in Expected Goals. The team has been statistically better, but less prolific in the win column:
Where are the Winnipeg Jets right now?
So, what is the verdict? Is Coach Bones a product of diminishing returns, or are the Jets in good hands long-term?
This is a terrible answer, but I think we need to allow for a full season before declaring definitively. Comparative to last year, the results are a net positive, but is that the standard we want to set? The Jets had a historically bad season under Maurice so it is seemingly better to evaluate based on an NHL average. While the macro stats are above average, the micro-decisions have been shaky at best.
Regardless, it is easy to forget the state of the Jets prior to the 2022 season, and the progress that has been made since then. It is also hard not to veer into ageism. Coach Bones is 68 years old, and anecdotally, 65-plus mindsets are generally not malleable. We all have grandparents and uncles that prove this seemingly controversial idiom true. Stubbornness is a virtue until it is not. Playing players based on size, and allocating minutes based on ‘feel’ is not congruent with the modern NHL.
Ultimately, nobody likes pudding – but sometimes the proof lies within it. Rick Bowness has created a buy-in culture with the Jets, we just need to make sure we are buying what he is selling.