How the Maple Leafs will look different under head coach Craig Berube

Nick Kypreos joins Danielle Michaud to go over the Craig Berube presser, including what he can bring to the table for the Maple Leafs, how his leadership is different from Sheldon Keefe, and his affect to re-tooling of the roster.

TORONTO — A dusty fight clip from February 1989 has been making the rounds since Craig Berube was hired to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs on the eve of the May long weekend.

“Yeah, I’ve seen that video,” club president Brendan Shanahan said, smiling as Berube was introduced to reporters Tuesday morning. “I remember that one in particular.”

A young Shanahan, decked out in New Jersey Devils Christmas colours, is trading chucked fists with Philly’s Berube, whose stat line that season (one goal, one assist, 199 penalty minutes) made Broad Street proud.

Shanahan recalled how he broke into the show as a bottom-sixer, like Berube, but had graduated to Jersey’s top line in that night they fought.

“Well, I guess you’re not gonna fight us guys anymore,” Berube said to his future employer that night.

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“Let’s go,” Shanahan replied.

Then as now, Shanahan respected Berube’s consistency as much as his toughness.

“He was a competitor. You always knew when he was on the ice,” Shanahan said Tuesday.

After building a profile for the ideal head coach to succeed the fired Sheldon Keefe and speaking with upwards of nine candidates, Shanahan and GM Brad Treliving conducted a deep dive into men who worked with and for Berube.

First-liners and fourth-liners. Canadians and Europeans.

They all responded with an identical endorsement: I’d go through a wall for that guy.

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Too often, and to their detriment, this era of Maple Leafs has been guilty of preferring to go around the wall.

The pitch here, with a more blunt boss behind the bench, is that no longer will we see this team drop back and regroup or get too cute with east-west highlights. Punishment should trump possession. The dump-and-chase plug will feel as integral as the superstar.

“I’m going to bring my own style here in how we play the game,” said Berube, whose every sentence is an assertion. “Competitive. We don’t want to get outworked ever.”

Though the roster and the expectations and the talent distribution and the trajectory of this Leafs group is vastly different than the St. Louis Blues bunch Berube took hold of in 2019 and busted a Stanley Cup drought that stretched back to ’67, the philosophy will be the same.

Berube wants his Maple Leafs — virtually all of whom he’s already met with in-person or on the phone — to drive straight. Be heavy on pucks. Win their pucks. Earn their ice time. Move their feet.

“It’s all about the team for me,” Berube said. “Everyone is used, everyone has a role.

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“Playing predictable and north and playing as fast as we can.”

As Treliving conducted his coach search — the GM’s sole focus since Toronto’s first-round exit — he was impressed by the depth of Berube’s résumé: his 1,000-plus-game playing career, his work as both an assistant and a head coach at both the AHL and NHL levels, his commitment as “an organizational man” in Philadelphia, another “rich-tradition franchise.”

And as Treliving spoke with other hopefuls — Todd McLellan and Gerard Gallant among them — he kept circling back to Berube, ultimately feeling lucky that such a strong and like-minded individual was available.

Treliving liked Berube’s knack for pushing players to do the uncomfortable things necessary for a deep playoff run. And loved that instant respect Berube commands when he enters a room.

“Presence,” Treliving said. “You either have it or you don’t. Craig has it.”

So, the GM signed Berube for four years and compensated the in-demand free agent with a salary exceeding that in St. Louis and the one the coach didn’t take in Ottawa.

“Character matters,” Treliving said. “It matters with your team, and it matters most importantly with your head coach.”

The buzzword around the new guy in town is accountability.

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Berube believes accountability is shaped well before training camp opens, by getting to know his players over the summer, by building a partnership through open communication. So that when he promotes them to the top power-play unit or demotes them to the bottom six, they know why.

A student of former Flyers head coaches Paul Holmgren, John Stevens, and Ken Hitchcock, Berube vows to be honest. He wants his charges to know exactly where they stand. What they’re doing well. What they better improve. Yet he’s wise enough to keep most of his candour internal. Proudly Canadian born, he understands the market he’s walking into, the microscope he’s walking under.

“I get all that, but it’s not going to be weighing on my shoulders at all,” Berube said. “You get a chance to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs, you jump at that.”

So, what jumps next?

Well, the trio of hard-nosed hockey men sitting at the podium Tuesday were careful not to tip their hand on roster changes, nor the upcoming decisions on a collection of assistant coaches that has so far survived the Keefe dismissal.

Make no mistake, Berube will be vocal with his opinions on his staff and his roster. And he understands firsthand how far a true No. 1 goaltender and a deep, stout defence corps can take a team. On that, it sounds, management and the coach are aligned.

Treliving and Berube will next meet with their pro and amateur scouts to identify targets for free agency, trade, and next month’s draft.

As for the files on pending free agents like Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi, or the complicated futures of soon-to-be-extension-eligible stars Mitch Marner and John Tavares, Treliving reiterated that he’ll be looking at everything — now with his handpicked head coach at his side.

“We’ll see,” Treliving said. “We’ve got a busy summer ahead.”

The search is over. The work has only begun.

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