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New Leafs coach eyes opportunity to build, push team over the hump

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

Berube was introduced at a press conference as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ newest head 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 seasons in Toronto. However, he 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 (president Brendan Shanahan) … we’re on the same page.”

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

Berube, who hails from Calahoo, Alta., 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.

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 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.

Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brad Treliving, left to right, Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment CEO Keith Pelley, Toronto Maple Leafs new head coach Craig Berube and Toronto Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan pose for a photo after Berube’s introductory press conference in Toronto, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston

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.

“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 some 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, US$65 million 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.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2024 

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