Scheifele, Ehlers and others are being mismanaged by Rick Bowness

Winnipeg Jets, Rick Bowness (Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports)
Winnipeg Jets, Rick Bowness (Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports) /

Coaching is a curious profession. It requires a rare combination of dexterity, resolve, and fluidity scarcely possessed by just one individual. In a typical NHL season, a coach will be called upon to be a disciplinarian, a friend, a mentor, a motivator, and an analytical chess player. Compounding matters, the bench boss will often be required to occupy several of these roles simultaneously – depending on the character, or ‘characters’ on his or her roster.

A coach’s popularity also fluctuates like a sine curve. Coach Bones is the perfect illustration of this esoteric mathematical undulation. After the first 30 games of the Winnipeg Jets season, Bones was unquestionably the belle of the ball. Nary a cynic to be found, as the Jets jumped out to their best start in 2.0 history. 45 games later, with his popularity at its nadir, Winnipeg Jets fans and media are circling the wagon on his demise.

Let’s conduct a thought experiment. If, before the 2022-23 season, Jets fans were told that the team would be 41-31-3 and in a wild-card spot – I venture to say that the majority sampled would be satisfied with that outcome. However, because the Jets got off to such a torrid start, their current state seems relatively disheartening.

The fact remains that the Jets are dangerously close to missing the playoffs for the second year in a row. Recently, I questioned the leadership of the ‘core’ of this team. It is only fair to also question their boss, as certain intangibles have been lacking:

1.       Winnipeg Jets’ Motivation

For weeks, Coach Bones has been very communicative with the media, expressing his displeasure in a tone ranging from cagey to hostile. His benching of Scheifele, Connor and Niederreiter was a culmination of a month of publicly preaching accountability. On the surface, and at the time, I applauded the move. No player should be immune from discipline.

The problem is twofold:

a.       No other player has been similarly castigated, despite several obvious candidates in the mix. PLD, Wheeler and Pionk have struggled at times with effort and consistency, however, seem immune to the coach’s ire.

b.       The public scrutiny hasn’t worked (Scheifele especially), yet the coach continues to use the media to parry subtle jabs at his players. While Coach Bones may be operating from a sense of desperation, public laundry gets dirty fast.

Accountability is great, but only if it is applied evenly and consistently. Otherwise, it comes across as arbitrary and compulsive.

2.       Winnipeg Jets’ Lineups

MoneyPuck data shows that the Jets have played 61 different forward line combinations this year. That’s 8th most in the league. The teams that have played more line combinations include Washington (81), Vancouver (62), Philadelphia (76), Montreal (76), Detroit (68), Columbus (73), and Anaheim (72).

These teams represent the 5 worst teams in the Eastern Conference and 2 non-playoff teams in the West. Correlation does not necessarily lead to causation, but it seems like putting your lines in a blender is antithetical to success.

I understand that injuries play a role in line-up decisions, but the Jets are middle of the pack in terms of player games lost to injury. Coach Bones has been quick and seemingly erratic in mixing up his lines. 75 games into the season do not seem like the ideal time to finish your jigsaw puzzle. How can consistency be found in chaos?

3.       Winnipeg Jets’ Nik Ehlers

On Tuesday, Nik Ehlers started the game on the 3rd line with Lowry and Appleton. He played just over 13 minutes of ice time. Bones’ reasoning was as follows:

The move to elicit consistency from one of your most talented forwards is to relegate him to the 3rd line. Ehlers is a streaky player, but this is galaxy brained. The line combination of Ehlers-Dubois-Connor was sensational in limited minutes. Why not go back to that? The stats back this up:

Much has been written about Ehlers this year, but for a team that is struggling to score goals, there is no question that Ehlers is excellent at producing them. Ehlers is the Jets leading scorer per minute of ice time for several years in a row now. He just needs the opportunity to do so.

After another shutout loss to the lowly Sharks, the Winnipeg Jets must be in panic mode. While outplaying San Jose, the high-danger chances were only 17-15 in favor of the Jets. Simply not good enough for a team on the brink of elimination.

It might seem lazy to once again lay the Jets’ struggles at the feet of their beleaguered head coach. However, with the powerplay free-falling, and several players underperforming, it is a logical conclusion. The Jets need more than a disciplinarian at this point – they need a coach.