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10 things Maple Leafs fans need to know about Craig Berube

What should Maple Leafs fans expect from new head coach Craig Berube?

After covering Berube for the past six seasons with the St. Louis Blues, I should be able to give you a pretty good preview. I was there when he culminated in the team’s first Stanley Cup in 2019. And I was there when he was fired by the club in December.

Those high and low tides are important in explaining Berube’s tenure in St. Louis, but it’s the days in between that tell the whole story.

I was there to witness the daily grind. This past season I even shadowed him for a day, from the time he walked out of his hotel room in Arizona at 7:30 a.m. until he jumped into his truck in St. Louis after the 3 a.m. flight home.

So, Leafs Nation, what makes him tick? Why do players want to play for him? And of course, why did his time with the Blues ultimately come to an end?

Here are 10 things you need to know about Berube.


1. He will inspire confidence

Berube was never in general manager Doug Armstrong’s plans to coach the Blues. In 2015, when the Philadelphia Flyers fired Berube, Armstrong was in charge of Canada’s 2016 World Cup roster and asked to help with scouting. That led to an offer for Berube to coach the Blues’ AHL affiliate.

Ken Hitchcock was the Blues’ coach at the time and Mike Yeo was the coach-in-waiting. In 2016, Hitchcock was fired, Yeo was promoted, and a year later Berube joined Yeo’s staff. When the Blues started the 2018-19 season with a 7-9-3 record under Yeo, he was fired and Berube was named interim coach.

It was a club with Stanley Cup potential that lacked confidence. At Berube’s first press conference, he mentioned reintroducing it dozens of times.

After the Blues’ miraculous worst to the Cup’s first climb to the Cup that year, players shared behind-the-scenes stories of Berube’s motivational tactics.

“We had a meeting a long time ago when we were five games under .500, and he took the rankings off the wall and said, ‘I believe in you guys, and we’re going to make the playoffs!’ said former Blues winger Pat Maroon. “He said, ‘You guys just gotta keep finding ways to fight through these things, because I believe in you, and if I still believe in you, then you gotta believe in it.’”

2. He will be a good communicator

One of Berube’s daily routines comes after practice, when players make a circle in the middle of the ice to stretch. He taps them all on the back with his stick and often stops to have individual conversations.

“He would talk to everyone and just walk by and say, ‘Hey, good morning.’ How are you?” said ex-Blues striker Ivan Barbashev. ‘After a match he says, ‘Hey, you’re doing really well. Just keep going.’ He is a good talker.”

In 2018, two days after rookie Robert Thomas scored his first NHL goal, Berube skated up to him during practice, and afterward I asked Thomas what Berube said.

“He said, ‘Good game. A good step in the right direction, but I think you need to be a little more physical in the pre-check,” Thomas recalled. “He always gives you a few things to focus on.”

I wanted to know how Berube’s communication skills compared to those of other coaches, so I asked the thoughts of Hall of Famer Larry Robinson, a consultant with the Blues late in his career.

“He’s a great communicator,” Robinson said. “For me that is Craig’s greatest asset. He knows his players and when he sees something happening, he doesn’t let it fester. If he sees something he doesn’t like, or he knows there’s some messing going on with players, he addresses it immediately.”

3. He is a working man

I will never forget a particular day in Winnipeg. The Blues had a morning practice before their game against the Jets, and I was walking in a hallway outside the locker room. I walked past an open door and there was Berube doing dumbbell curls.

He still looks like he can drop the gloves and go for a round or two.

Berube, a left winger, played 17 seasons in the NHL and finished with 3,149 penalty minutes, which ranks No. 7 in league history. That includes 241 fighting majors, according to HockeyFights.

I believe Berube’s career gives him immediate respect from the players he coaches, as well as appreciation for them.

“He knows exactly how these guys feel,” Craig MacTavish, who worked on Berube’s staff in St. Louis, once told me. “I’m sure this helps him a lot because his players love playing for him.”

Blues defenseman Torey Krug confirmed that.

“Everyone in that room loves playing for him because we know if he was sitting next to us on the bench, he would fight with us,” he said.

4. He knows the game

Some of you may be saying, “Okay, Berube played in the NHL and he’s good at empathizing with players, but what does he know about X’s and O’s and making adjustments?”

Well, late in his playing career he started paying more attention to it.

“There were a lot of nights when I had a lot of time on the couch watching it,” Berube once said, poking fun at himself for not getting much ice time. “I just started to watch the game a little more closely.”

When Berube became coach of the Philadelphia Flyers’ AHL affiliate, Hitchcock was in charge of the parent club.

“We spent an awful lot of time together,” Hitchcock said. “We were both early risers, so we spent every morning together discussing tactics. He was exceptional in his understanding of the changes that needed to be made to improve.”

During Berube’s time with the Blues, it was uncanny how his intuitive decisions often turned to gold. If he were to change lines, one of those changes would explain the winning goal. If he were to put a defenseman in the lineup, that player would be the star of the game. It didn’t always work, but more often than not it did.

Berube is one of seven people to have played at least 1,000 NHL games and won more than 200 games behind the bench.

Coaches Profit behind the bench Games played in the NHL

Randy Carlyle

475

1,055

Bob Pulford

360

1,079

Craig MacTavish

301

1,093

Craig Berube

281

1,054

Red Kelly

278

1,316

Brent Sutter

215

1,111

Larry Robinson

209

1,384

5. He actually has a calm demeanor

Berube was an enforcer, so he must have a quick trigger, right? If so, I’ve never seen it.

He has a calm demeanor and there couldn’t be a greater example than after Game 3 of the 2019 Western Conference finals against the San Jose Sharks. The Blues fell 5–4 in extra time when Timo Meier made an illegal handpass that was not called and resulted in a game-winning goal from Erik Karlsson.

I remember walking into the dressing room afterwards and being floored by the fact that none of the Blues were complaining. Then I realized that Berube had reached them first.

“He said, ‘Don’t say too much (to the media),’” former Blue David Perron said. “We will have to move on, that is the reality.”

The Blues trailed 2–1 in the series, but won Games 4, 5 and 6 by a combined 12–2 to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.

“After reading their comments in the media, I felt like they had already moved on,” Berube said. “The next day I could tell by the way they came in that they were ready for Game 4.”

6. He has a dry humor that can be hysterical

Berube’s voice is quite monotone, and he is quite businesslike. His post-match press conferences aren’t always must-see TV, but every now and then he drops a dry one-liner that will make you cry.

I remember that after a match on February 13, 2023, Berube was asked if he had given his wife Dominique anything for Valentine’s Day.

“No, nothing,” Berube said. “I don’t like (Valentine’s Day). Another made-up thing.”

7. He will protect his players, but…

I don’t recall Berube throwing Blues players under the bus, but that doesn’t mean he won’t call it like he sees it.

In December 2022, the Blues played in Pittsburgh. Goalkeeper Jordan Binnington has a reputation for taking matters into his own hands, and after allowing three goals in one period, he was at it again. When the Penguins’ Jason Zucker skated past the back of the net, Binnington gave him a shot with his glove.

“It has to stop,” Berube said. “It doesn’t help anything. Just play goal. Stop the puck.”

Berube isn’t the only NHL coach who would respond to such a comment by meeting with the player. However, I always knew he was having those conversations.

“We had a good conversation,” says Berube. “He’s a competitive guy, and sometimes when things don’t go right, frustration sets in. (But) he’s in a good place right now.”

Since then, Binnington’s antics have been virtually nonexistent.

8. He can give a great Game 7 speech

On June 9, 2019, the Blues had a chance to win the franchise’s first Cup on home ice. They lost 5-1 to the Boston Bruins, and the streets that were about to erupt in St. Louis were suddenly quiet. For this dream to still come true, the team would have to win at TD Garden in Game 7.

The Blues ran out 4-1 winners and then we learned why they were so motivated. I remember seeing the video of Berube’s pregame speech for the first time, and five years later it still gives people goosebumps.

“Just because of his confidence going into the game and how he handled that situation, he wasn’t nervous,” former Blues defenseman Vince Dunn said. “When Game 7 came, I thought, ‘This is our time – let’s do this!’”

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GO DEEPER

Craig Berube won a Stanley Cup in St. Louis. Does it matter to the Maple Leafs?

9. He can coach experienced players

I felt it was important to include this because of the skill in Toronto’s lineup.

The Blues won the Stanley Cup with a big, physical lineup, and because Berube was that type of player too, that’s what branded his style.

So as the Blues’ squad developed with more skilled, rush-oriented players, the belief was that Berube would not be a good fit. Yes, he prefers a big, rough club, but that should be welcome news for Leafs fans.

But if anyone in Toronto is concerned about offensively talented players being locked up by a forecheck-first game plan, don’t be. In St. Louis, Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou were two of the most productive players in the lineup and many of their numbers came from rushing. I’ve had numerous conversations with Berube about this, and all he wants is for those players to be defensively responsible and have a good work ethic in their own zone.

go deeper

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‘He gets results’: What Maple Leafs players can expect when playing for Craig Berube

10. His message wasn’t the problem

Why was Berube available? Why did the Blues fire him?

I’m not going to say everything was perfect. There were players who turned him down, and management was concerned about his attention to detail in practice.

But Berube’s firing wasn’t about whether he could coach. The Blues’ squad is shackled by long-term contracts and no-trade clauses, and the talent wasn’t what it once was. Yes, interim coach Drew Bannister had some success with the same group (30-19-11), but Bannister will have his own challenges until changes are made.

Berube may be a new band by definition, but he is a quality coach with still a lot of profile.

(Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)