Of the four coaches in the NHL’s conference finals, the Dallas Stars‘ Rick Bowness is the only one serving on an interim basis. But Stars general manager Jim Nill said the team’s playoff success has affected his view on the future of Dallas’ head-coaching position.
“For what he’s done right now, he’s made a strong statement,” Nill said Wednesday from the Edmonton bubble.
Bowness took over the Stars on an interim basis Dec. 10 after they fired coach Jim Montgomery for “unprofessional conduct inconsistent with the core values and beliefs of the Dallas Stars and the National Hockey League.” Montgomery entered an inpatient residential program for alcohol abuse in January.
“Rick and I talked when we had to make a change,” Nill said. “It all happened really quick. We went right from making the coaching change to Rick taking over and then all of a sudden you hit a pandemic.”
Under Bowness, the Stars went 20-13-5 in the regular season. Nill said the pause in the NHL season from March 12 to the end of July allowed the team and Bowness a chance to “reset” ahead of the postseason. The Stars were 28th in the NHL in goals during the regular season. With some changes to lines and how active their defensemen are on offense, the Stars are eighth in the playoffs in goals per game (3.00).
“We’re reaping the rewards right now of him having a chance to put his stamp on this team,” Nill said. “I’ve been very impressed. We’re down to the final four.”
Even more impressive is his communication with the players.
“The most important thing is watching how the players react,” Nill said. “When you see how players react to a coach and the decisions he has to make. I know that Rick’s got the full support of the players, and that’s important.”
Bowness, 65, is currently the NHL’s oldest coach. He said Aug. 31 that he hadn’t thought about whether the Stars’ postseason performance would affect his future with the team.
“That never enters into it,” Bowness said. “Jim Nill and I have an agreement. We’ll talk about it at the end of the year, and that’s all that matters. I haven’t even given that any thought. There’s no time for that. I tell our players [that] we stay in the moment. I want our coaches to stay in the moment as well.”
Nill confirmed there is an agreement between both parties to revisit his status after the season.
“We have an agreement,” Nill said. “We’re going to sit down at the end of the year. I want to talk to Rick. Does he want to be a head coach?”