Stars ‘reaping the rewards’ of Rick Bowness’ coaching experience

Rick Bowness and Jim Nill have an agreement. Once the Stars’ season is over, the interim head coach and general manager will sit down and discuss Bowness’ future.

It wasn’t an easy situation Bowness to enter. He took over for Jim Montgomery, who was fired Dec. 10 for what the team called “unprofessional conduct inconsistent with the core values and beliefs of the Dallas Stars and the National Hockey League.” Montgomery later entered into an alcohol abuse program.

The Stars compiled a 20-13-5 record under Bowness after the change and finished with the fourth-best regular season points percentage at the time of the March NHL pause. That allowed Dallas to play in the Round-Robin portion of the Return to Play, giving them a bye to the First Round.

They went on to dispatch the Flames in six games and upset the heavily-favored Avalanche in seven games to reach the Western Conference Final for the first time since 2008. What changed is an offense that went from averaging 2.55 goals per game in the regular season to 3 in the postseason.

There’s no doubt that Bowness has proven himself to be a fit with this Stars roster. The question is will he want to continue beyond this season.

“[W]hat he’s done right now, he’s made a strong statement,” said Nill, who named a finalist for NHL GM of the Year Wednesday.

The transition from Montgomery to Bowness wasn’t an easy one. Players didn’t know what the reasons were for the change, and Bowness had to go from assistant to the one in charge. He was thrust into a job taking over an 18-11-3 team and keeping the ship afloat. Add in a four-month stoppage and it’s been an interesting ride so far.

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“When we had to make the change, everything went pretty quick,” Nill said. “We went right from having to make the coaching change to Rick taking over, and then all of a sudden you get a pandemic. That gave him a chance to reset, and I think we’re reaping the rewards right now of him having a chance to put his stamp on this team. I’ve been very impressed.”

When the calendar flipped to January, it meant that Bowness had been an NHL coach for five decades. It’s an exclusive club that also features Pat Quinn and Scotty Bowman. He has been behind benches for over 2,000 games, the most in league history. That’s a lot of time learning the behaviors of players and how to get the most out of them in different situations.

Bowness’ attitude toward his players didn’t change when he went from assistant to interim head coach. It’s been a key to his success in Dallas.

“I just be me with the players,” Bowness said. “That’s how I’ve always coached. I’m not one of those guys that labels [coaches] player coach, not a player coach. I don’t believe in all that stuff. I’m just me. I just do it my way.”

There will be a time and place to discuss the future, Bowness said last month. Right now the focus is on winning the Stanley Cup with the Stars.

Said Stars forward Tyler Seguin: “He’s one of those guys that you want to win for.”

Pre-game coverage of Game 3 of Golden Knights-Stars begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

No. 1 Vegas Golden Knights vs. No. 3 Dallas Stars (Series tied 1-1)

Stars 1, Golden Knights 0 (recap)
Golden Knights 3, Stars 0 (recap)
Game 3:
Thursday, Sept. 10, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 4:
Saturday, Sept. 12, 8 p.m. ET – NBC (livestream)
Game 5:
Monday, Sept. 14, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
*Game 6:
Wednesday, Sept. 16, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
*Game 7:
Friday, Sept. 18, 9 p.m. ET – NBCSN

*if necessary

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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