Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler wasn’t a fan of how head coach Rick Bowness handled his post-game press conference after the team was eliminated from the playoffs by the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.
A raw and emotional Bowness tore into his players minutes after the loss, saying he was “disappointed and disgusted.“
“No pushback. But it’s the same crap we saw in February,” Bowness said. “As soon as we were challenging for first place and teams were coming after us, we had no pushback. This series we had no pushback. Their better players were so much better than ours, it’s not even close…
“There’s got to be pride. You’ve got to be able to push back when things aren’t going your way.”
Wheeler thought it was inappropriate that Bowness shared those remarks publicly and would have preferred the veteran bench boss keep comments of that nature in-house.
“I think he could have been honest with us,” Wheeler told reporters during Winnipeg’s season-ending media availability on Saturday. “We could have had those discussions behind closed doors. So I didn’t agree with how he handled himself after that game…
“He’s a person, too, so we don’t expect him to be perfect all the time, and people make mistakes,” Wheeler later added. “Those conversations are best had face-to-face. There’s certainly healing that can happen, for sure.”
“He could’ve been honest with us, we could’ve had those discussions behind closed doors… so I didn’t agree with how he handled himself after that game.”
Blake Wheeler on Rick Bowness’ comments following the Jets’ playoff exit after Game 5. pic.twitter.com/7jljgHnU7h
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 29, 2023
Bowness also met with the media on Saturday and attempted to tone down his words, but made it clear the message still stands.
“One of my many faults is that I’m too emotional and that I wear my heart on my sleeve,” Bowness said. “That being said, I criticize myself for the choice of words.
“The message, the clear message, is one that I will never accept that kind of an effort in a game like that.”
Winnipeg surprisingly took Game 1 of its series against top-seeded Vegas, then proceeded to lose four consecutive contests. Injuries played a major factor for the Jets, who were without key contributors Josh Morrissey, Mark Scheifele, Cole Perfetti and Nikolaj Ehlers for some or all of the series.
The Jets now begin an uncertain summer, with core pieces like Scheifele, Wheeler and star goaltender Connor Hellebuyck all one year away from unrestricted free agency. Forward Pierre-Luc Dubois is a restricted free agent this offseason.