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Berube welcomes challenge of building talent-laden Leafs to push over playoff hump

The opportunity to give a talented team the extra boost it needs was enticing for Craig Berube.

Berube was introduced at a press conference as the NHL team’s newest coach on Tuesday. He takes over the job from Sheldon Keefe, who was fired on May 9 after Toronto was eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs by Boston.

“Well obviously, if you look at the roster first and foremost, there’s some great players here,” Berube said. “And great opportunity to build a team that can move forward and become something, not better, but get over the hump a little bit here.”

Keefe put up a combined 212-97-40 record over parts of five campaigns in Toronto, but was just 16-21 in the post-season, including a 1-5 series mark.

The Leafs failed to achieve sustained success after finally breaking out of the first round for the first time since 2004, when they defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games in 2022-23.

“Watching the playoffs this year with them, I thought that there was already that change kind of going on with how they want to be built and play and that’s [general manager Brad Treliving] bringing that in,” Berube said. “Talking with Brad and [team president Brendan Shanahan] we’re on the same page.”

Berube, 58. was hired on Friday as the 32nd head coach in franchise history after five-plus seasons in St. Louis. He was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award in 2019, when he led the Blues to a Stanley Cup title.

‘We don’t want to get outworked, ever’

The Calahoo, Alta., native said the Leafs’ playoff failures are not a focus of his.

“That stuff’s in the past,” Berube said. “I’m focused on now and the future. I’m going to, obviously, bring my own style here and how we want to play the game. And again, Brad and Brendan are on board with that.”

“Competitive, we don’t want to get outworked, ever. We want to be highly competitive every night,” Berube added of the style he wants. “We want to play a north game, we want to play fast, we want to be a heavy team.”

Berube was fired by St. Louis in December after missing the playoffs last spring. He owns a 281-190-72 coaching record over parts of eight NHL seasons with the Blues and Philadelphia Flyers.

You have players that, to me, talked about how they would go through a wall for him.— Maple Leafs GM Brad Treliving on new head coach Craig Berube

He was promoted from assistant to head coach in St. Louis on an interim basis in November 2018 before leading the Blues to the franchise’s first title seven months later.

He also had 60 goals, 159 points and 3,149 penalty minutes in 1,054 regular-season games across a 17-year NHL playing career with Philadelphia, Washington, Calgary, New York Islanders and Toronto. Berube added three goals, one assist and 211 penalty minutes in 89 playoff appearances.

Treliving said there was upwards of nine people he spoke with before Berube ultimately became the choice for the head coaching job.

“The homework you do with people that worked with, worked for and played for Craig — you have players that, to me, talked about how they would go through a wall for him,” Treliving said.

WATCH | Berube introduced as Maple Leafs’ 32nd head coach:

Toronto Maple Leafs introduce new head coach Craig Berube

3 hours ago

Duration 5:25

New Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Craig Berube said at a news conference Tuesday he’s looking forward to building a winning team. Berube previously won a Stanley Cup as head coach of the St. Louis Blues in 2019. CBC’s Greg Ross has more from the Ford Performance Centre.

Praise for Berube, the competitor

“The connection that he had with his players, the accountability that he had with his players, the bond that he was able to build with staff — ultimately character matters.”

Shanahan heaped praise onto his team’s newest coach when asked of his battles against Berube as a player.

“He was a competitor, he was a guy that you always knew when he was on the ice and he’s translated that to his career in coaching,” Shanahan said.

Toronto enters an off-season with questions surrounding the future of star forward Mitch Marner. The 27-year-old winger is eligible to sign an extension on July 1, having just one year remaining on his six-year, $65-million US deal.

Treliving said they haven’t gone into player personnel matters yet, with the coaching search being checked off the list first and amateur and pro scout meetings taking place this week.

“As I said at the end of the year, we’re going to look at everything,” he said. “We’ve got some really good players and we don’t want to lose sight of that.

“But now Craig and I will sit down and we’ll start to dig into all the other areas, roster construction, all those types of things and we’ve got a busy summer ahead.”

DiMaio joins Senators front office

The Ottawa Senators have added veteran executive Rob DiMaio to their front office, the NHL club announced.

The Senators said in a news release the 56-year-old from Calgary will join general manager Steve Staios as director of player personnel and director of professional scouting.

DiMaio spent the last two seasons as assistant GM in Anaheim, where he was also the GM of the San Diego Gulls, the Ducks’ American Hockey League affiliate.

Before that, he spent 13 seasons with St. Louis and was the Blues’ director of player personnel between 2015 and 2022.

He helped construct the St. Louis roster that won the 2019 Stanley Cup.

As a player, DiMaio appeared in 894 career games with the New York Islanders, the New York Rangers, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Boston, Carolina and Dallas.

Lightning bring back McDonagh

The Nashville Predators traded Ryan McDonagh back to Tampa Bay less than two years after acquiring the veteran defenceman, Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois announced.

The Predators also are sending the Lightning a fourth-round pick in the NHL draft in June. Nashville traded for the two-time Stanley Cup champion in July 2023, helping Tampa Bay clear much-needed cap space.

Nashville receives Tampa Bay’s second-round selection in 2025 and seventh-round pick in June.

McDonagh played 145 games for Nashville. The Predators missed the playoffs in McDonagh’s first season with them, and they lost in the first round in six games to Vancouver this post-season.

McDonagh, who turns 35 on June 13, played in 74 games this season with a plus-19 rating. He had one assist and a minus-1 rating in the playoff series with the Canucks.

Tampa Bay lasted just five games in its opening round series against Florida, the second straight season the Lightning didn’t get past the first round after playing in three straight Stanley Cup finals.

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