He also says he harbors no resentment over the recent signing of Alexei Yashin, Ottawa's best player, who ended his season-long holdout by agreeing to a deal that could have been done six months ago.
"I put in three tough years there, and I think there was progress," Bowness said before the Islanders' 2-2 tie with the Montreal Canadiens last night. "Certainly, there was progress in October [when the team started 6-5 and shared the Northeast Division lead]. A few injuries put us on the skids, and I was fired because ownership hoped the coaching was the problem."
It wasn't. Next to go was general manager Randy Sexton.
Former Mighty Ducks of Anaheim vice president and Baltimore Bandits general manager Pierre Gauthier was hired late last month, and less than a week later, Yashin was signed for a reported $3 million a year. Yashin, 22, was in the third year of a five-year, $4.2 million contract that was to pay him $820,000 this season.
Yashin held out because, he said, a promise to renegotiate his contract after his rookie season -- if he was the best player on the team -- was broken.
Yashin got what he wanted. It cost him $400,000 in lost wages, but if you're getting a $2.2 million-a-year raise, who cares?
The signing caused ripples around the NHL, as it seemed apparent owner Rod Bryden simply gave in.
"They're now paying him as much money as the very, very, very top players in the league," said Washington Capitals general manager David Poile. "To me, it's surprising, because if this was their decision, why didn't they do this last year instead of now?"
Bowness says the last thing Senators management wanted was to be put in this position.
"Certainly the logical question is: Why not have signed him sooner?" he says. "The answer is they were willing to let him sit out and did everything they could to avoid having to do this. They fired a coach. They fired a general manager. And there was still no turnaround and no sign that Yashin was going to come back. And when the chips are down, you need your premier player."
Bottom line, says Bowness, is that Ottawa needs Yashin and that Gauthier did the smart thing, making sure he could do the deal before walking into the Senators' front office.
"Let's call it like it is," said Poile. "When a player says he'll never play here or there again, [the truth is] whoever pays him the most money is where he is going to play. And that's the bottom line -- and that's no different from the NFL, NBA or major-league baseball. That's life."
Any time Detroit coach Scotty Bowman feels blue because his Red Wings (27-7-3) missed setting the franchise record for a winning streak, all he has to do to feel better is think about the troubles of the team that stopped the Detroit streak at nine with a 3-3 tie.
The Dallas Stars (10-18-8) have not won a game since Dec. 17, when they beat the San Jose Sharks -- for the third time this season. The Sharks (8-26-4) are the only team with a worse record in the Western Conference.
The Stars are the only team in the NHL that has yet to beat a team in its division, going 0-10-1 in the Central.
"We have some players trying to be a little more, trying to crack us out of this thing," said Dallas coach Bob Gainey. "But it is your so-called stars or top players that are going to lead you through it."
If you're going to get through it.
Mike Modano and Dave Gagner have just 25 goals between them and are a combined minus-39 on the plus/minus chart.
"If we go much further in the direction we're going," said Gainey, "we'll be asking which of the goalies will score."
Around the rinks
When the Philadelphia Flyers were hard hit by the flu on their western road trip that concluded last night with a 2-2 tie in Colorado, goalie Garth Snow volunteered to play defense. . . . Calgary goaltender Trevor Kidd has allowed six goals in the past five games with two shutouts. . . . Mighty Ducks defenseman Milos Holan, who suffers from a form of leukemia, is about to begin bone-marrow transplant treatment.