Rick Bowness is the most experienced coach in the NHL.
With almost 2,400 games on an NHL bench, he has seen pretty much everything. That said, most of it has been as an assistant coach running a defense. So when the 64-year-old was elevated to Stars interim coach last week, he said he would take over the deployment of the forwards and added a slight caveat.
"I told the forwards, 'Man, I haven't run the bench in like 16 years, so let's try to be a little patient out there.'" Bowness said with a chuckle. "We'll figure it out as we go along."
It might be one of the most important journeys of this season for Bowness and the Stars.
Line deployment and shuffling of lines is an art. It's how Scotty Bowman got to be known as a coaching genius. It's what kept Ken Hitchcock up late at night. It's what head coaches like to do most.
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"The on-the-fly stuff is huge," said Stars general manager Jim Nill. "That's what all successful coaches focus on. They like the chess match and they want to win it every game."
Bowness has done that matching with his defensemen for years, but admits that figuring out three pairs of two on the fly is much easier than trying to work four lines of three forwards. In addition to trying to get a feel for which players fit best together, he has to see which lines match up best against the opposition, and how much players should be on the ice.
The first three games of the Bowness era have presented different challenges already. In the first game -- a 2-0 win over New Jersey -- Bowness rolled all four line and had his 12 forwards between 13 and 18 minutes. It was as easy as a game could go, and a textbook example of what Bowness would like to do on a daily basis.
"We've got four good lines," Bowness said. "I think St. Louis and Boston, those top teams, they roll four lines, and we're going to do the same as much as we can. For the most part, we're going to see … 13 to 18 minutes. That's what we're going to do."
Bowness added that he believes that's important for a feeling off the ice, as well. He said he likes everyone to be involved in the game. And while that goes against the tradition of riding your star players who make a very high percentage of your salary cap, the new head coach said he's more worried about what happens on the ice than what happens on a spread sheet.
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"A big part of being a good team is that everybody has to feel like they're contributing," he said. "If one guy is playing 22 and another is playing eight, that guy playing eight minutes doesn't feel that important. But if they're all in 13 to 18 range in terms of the forwards, then everyone knows they are a big part of the team."
The next game presented a lot more challenges for Bowness.
After Dallas took a 1-0 lead on Vegas in Dallas, the Golden Knights pushed back with a great second period and took a 2-1 lead. Bowness then swapped out Mattias Janmark from the top line and inserted Roope Hintz and Jason Dickinson in the middle of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. He landed on Hintz, and that line got the tying goal late in the game.
"I thought he did a good job there," Nill said. "The third period was pretty even, he made an adjustment, and we got a goal because of it."
Bowness shortened the bench in the third period, reducing minutes for Janmark and Denis Gurianov -- seemingly going against the philosophy he would like in a perfect game. He also rode his best checking line (Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau and Andrew Cogliano) to the tune of more than five minutes in the period. That seemed like a strange decision with his team trying to get the tying goal, but Bowness said he really wanted his "FCC" line out against Vegas' best line led by William Karlsson, and didn't feel he should stray from that part of the game plan.
That said, he departed in other areas in order to try to get that tying goal.
"We were trying to run them against the Karlsson line, but you can't get so wrapped up in matchups that your own team is not going," Bowness said. "If we had to run Faksy's line against the top line, everyone buys into that. But if you start matching two or three lines, you're going to disrupt your whole bench. We keep the focus on us, that's how we play."
After that move to get Hintz with Seguin and Benn worked well, Bowness decided to go back to the Benn, Seguin and Alexander Radulov line against Nashville on Saturday. Again, a road game against a different opponent, and that called for a different strategy.
That's sort of how this head coach thing works.
Bowness' defensemen can often play shifts for more than a minute depending on circumstances. His forwards are trying to stick closer to 40 seconds.
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"It's a lot different," he said. "I'm still getting used to their ability to recover when they come off of the ice, so you're watching their breathing and the lengths of their shifts. That takes a while."
Not so much of a while that it should affect the Stars' ability to win games, but enough of a while that he can still ask everyone to be patient.
"He's done it, so that experience definitely helps," said Nill, acknowledging that Bowness' last head coaching job was in 2004 with Phoenix. "But I think even as an assistant, he's observed it and he's helped the head coach with his decision-making. He's watched very closely, and I know he's been there to bounce ideas off of and talk about it on a daily basis."
Oh, yeah, and he definitely knows the overall game of hockey -- and that's a pretty big deal.
"He has the presence of a head coach," Nill said. "If you watch him in practice or even just in the locker room, he carries himself in a very strong and positive way. I definitely think he can handle whatever changes he might face going forward."
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This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.