Craig Berube’s Hiring Marks Next ‘New Era’ For The Toronto Maple Leafs

Craig Berube’s Hiring Marks Next ‘New Era’ For The Toronto Maple Leafs
Craig Berube’s Hiring Marks Next ‘New Era’ For The Toronto Maple Leafs

Head coach Craig Berube was announced as the new head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs on May 17, … [+] 2024. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

NHLI via Getty Images

One of the axioms of pro sports is a general manager’s right to hire his own coach.

So it should come as no surprise that after one year on the job, and another first-round playoff exit, Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brad Treliving has gone in a new direction behind the bench.

On Friday, just eight days after Sheldon Keefe was shown the door, the Leafs announced that they’d hired Craig Berube as their 32nd coach in franchise history.

Terms were not disclosed, but according to CapFriendly, the contract is for four years.

Berube will be formally introduced to the media in Toronto on Tuesday.

Amid a tumultous time for NHL bench bosses, Berube came on the market when he was dismissed by the St. Louis Blues on Dec. 12, 2023. He was best known for guiding the St. Louis Blues from last place in the league all the way to the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup when he took over as interim head coach midway through the 2018-19 season.

But the Blues struggled to replicate that success. Their only other playoff success was a six-game triumph over the Minnesota Wild in the first round of 2022. Then, they dropped by 28 points in the regular-season standings in the 2022-23 season, and missed the playoffs for the first time in five years.

Between 2018 and 2023, Berube put up a regular-season record of 206-132-24 over 456 games, for a .597 points percentage. He had previously spent two seasons behind the bench of the Philadelphia Flyers between 2013 and 2015, where his points percentage was .553 over 161 games.

And while St. Louis hasn’t had much recent success, Berube’s Stanley Cup ring pushed him to the very top of the list of available candidates for this summer’s many coaching vacancies around the NHL. According to Luke Fox of Sportsnet, Berube passed on the job openings with the Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils in order to keep himself available for the Maple Leafs.

Fox also reported that Treliving did interview other candidates, including Gerard Gallant and Todd McLellan, before making his final decision. Gallant won the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year in the Vegas Golden Knights’ inaugural season in 2017-18 and McLellan is a veteran with more than 1,100 games worth of NHL head-coaching experience, but neither has yet won a championship.

Craig Berube played 40 games on the wing for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 1991-92 season. (Photo … [+] by Graig Abel/Getty Images)

Getty Images

Now 58, Berube has first-hand experience with the Toronto media market. He played 40 games on the Maple Leafs’ wing during the 1991-92 season.

A rugged winger from Alberta who went undrafted out of the Western Hockey League, Berube carved out a 17-year playing career that spanned 1,054 games with five teams. Skating in an era where heavyweight fights occurred on a near-nightly basis, he wasn’t afraid to drop the gloves, and amassed the seventh-most penalty minutes of all time, at 3,149.

Berube’s no-nonsense approach as a player is at the foundation of his coaching style. He has a reputation for demanding accountability, which many Leafs observers felt was lacking at times from first-time NHL bench boss Sheldon Keefe.

That’s not to say that Keefe won’t have suitors as the league’s other coaching vacancies get filled this summer. The playoffs were his kryptonite, but he amassed a record of 212-97-40 over 349 games after taking over for Mike Babcock in 2019, a points percentage of .665.

Keefe did sign a two-year contract extension in August of 2023, which was set to kick in at the beginning of the 2024-25 season. That means he has enough financial security over the next two years to take time away from the high-pressure environment of NHL coaching if he chooses, and can certainly take his time in picking an opportunity that he finds appealing.

Speaking of GMs hiring their own coaches, Keefe’s pre-existing relationship with Pittsburgh Penguins president and GM Kyle Dubas doesn’t go unnoticed. But even though the Penguins have now missed the playoffs for the last two years, current coach Mike Sullivan is about to start a three-year extension at a hefty $5.5 million per season and is very highly regarded in the hockey world. On Saturday, USA Hockey announced that he will take the reins for their national team at the 2025 4 Nations Face-Off and the 2026 Winter Olympics.

Berube’s hiring leaves four coaching openings elsewhere in the NHL — with the San Jose Sharks, Seattle Kraken, New Jersey Devils and Winnipeg Jets. The Los Angeles Kings also have not yet announced whether they plan to remove the interim tag from Jim Hiller after he replaced McLellan at mid-season, so it’s still possible that a new face lands there.

Could more positions still open up?

A couple of weeks ago, there was some talk that the Boston Bruins might move on from 2023 Jack Adams winner Jim Montgomery if he didn’t get his team out of the first round. Is he safe with just one series win in two years?

Also, Rod Brind’Amour didn’t have an extension in place with the Carolina Hurricanes — a popular Stanley Cup pick this season who regressed from their 2023 appearance in the Eastern Conference Final after suffering an ugly third-period collapse in their Game 6 elimination loss to the New York Rangers.

Brind’Amour has been steadfast in expressing his desire to remain in Carolina, and past negotiations with cost-conscious owner Tom Dundon have gone down to the wire. On Saturday, Kevin Weeks of ESPN reported that Brind’Amour and the Hurricanes have come to terms on a multi-year contract extension.

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