Even though the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup this season, their head coach, Craig Berube, was labelled as an “interim” replacement for Mike Yeo. That is, until Monday.
The Blues announced that the team agreed to terms on a three-year contract extension for Berube. Having the head coach identified before free agency starts in earnest is a valuable part of building for the future of the franchise.
Berube’s Incredible Season
Berube began his tenure as interim head coach when Yeo was fired on Nov. 19, 2018. Berube had proven himself as an asset to the organization while coaching the Chicago Wolves of the AHL, and had earned himself a role as an assistant coach. But it was his brief as head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers that made him the perfect immediate replacement for his predecessor.
Success wasn’t immediate for the Blues under their new bench boss. In fact, they went 2-5-1 in his first eight games at the helm. But Berube knew where his attention should be focused:
We’ve got to instill some confidence back in this hockey team… we’ve got to get moving in the right direction.Craig Berube at his introductory press conference
The team began to find that confidence, and over time they found their groove as well. When rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington arrived on Jan. 7, they never looked back.
Armed with a new head coach and a new goaltender, the Blues were unstoppable. Under Berube, the team went 38-19-6, pushing back from the bottom of the league standings to capture third place in the Central Division, just one point away from the top. It was enough to make many fans think that Berube should stay on permanently.
But it was the playoffs where the coach turned that from probability into certainty. He helped the Blues capture the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, and did it while out-coaching many of his adversaries. He made the right roster decisions at the right time and always seemed one step ahead of the challenge. Though he didn’t beat out Barry Trotz for the Jack Adams Award, he did win the game’s ultimate prize.
Armstrong Seals the Deal
With everything Berube accomplished, it was something of a surprise that contract negotiations lasted as long as they did. Ultimately, though, the Blues announced that the ink was drying on their coach’s new, three-year contract.
“He’s gonna stay as interim for the next three years, ’cause we had some success with that,” Blues’ general manager DougArmstrong joked at Wednesday’s press conference. “Obviously what Craig did coming in last year and the way the season ended was spectacular for our city, for our organization, and he’s earned every right to be the head coach here moving forward… I hope the next three are just three of many.”
“I just want to thank the Blues Organization,” Berube said, “for just giving me the opportunity to coach the St. Louis Blues. We ended up winning a Stanley Cup, but it takes everybody… you need everybody (to be) part of it… everybody bought in, and fortunately, we came out on top.”
During the conference, Armstrong explained that the plan had been in the works for some time, but that they had tabled discussions through the postseason and the celebration so as not to distract their coach.
I knew, and I said to Craig at the end of the season that he’s gonna be our head coach, but let’s just deal with it at the appropriate time.Doug Armstrong on when he decided to sign Craig Berube long-term
The Blues had initially planned a lengthy search for their next head coach, but Armstrong admitted that the search process ended fairly quickly. “Quite honestly, I don’t think I’ve looked at that list since January,” he said. “I don’t even know where it is.”
It’s fortunate that he lost it, because the interim head coach brought his team to a Stanley Cup championship. And now, he’s in the fold for the future.
The Blues’ Bright Future
The Blues now have their bench boss locked down, and the timing could not be better. As free agency approaches, players will want to know who their coach is, and now any lingering questions about Berube’s contract status have been answered.
While the Blues likely won’t be active in the unrestricted free agent market, they have seven restricted free agents they need to sign. With a beloved coach staying for good, perhaps those negotiations will go a little more smoothly.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.