Why the Maple Leafs hired new coach Craig Berube

Nick Kypreos, Justin Bourne and Sam McKee discuss how Craig Berube's coaching style would fit with the media surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs and how big of a challenge it is to coach in Toronto.

TORONTO — The walk-back era is over.

The accountability era is here.

That, ostensibly, is what the Toronto Maple Leafs announced Friday by naming Craig Berube the 32nd head coach in team history.

The 58-year-old Berube was general manager Brad Treliving’s first in-person interview and top recruit. 

He was the most coveted free agent on the coaching market, especially with the inspiring Rod Brind’Amour having eyes only for Carolina and the decorated Joel Quenneville still needing Gary Bettman’s approval.

Make no mistake, Berube commands respect in any room he enters, and that includes the cushy Maple Leafs quarters run by young multi-millionaires still hoping to get over the hump.

[brightcove videoID=6353119501112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

Berube is honest. Sometimes brutally so. And his standard for work ethic and structure are high. He likes hard-checking teams. If those standards are not met, he’ll let his players know. Privately and publicly.

“You cannot play in this league without emotion, grit and being inspired,” Berube once charged his best players on the St. Louis Blues. 

“They’re getting paid lots of money, and they’re not doing their job. End of story.” 

For the record, the coach did not walk back those comments. (Heck, if anyone is walking back criticism during a Berube regime, it might be a star player.)

The introduction of a more authoritarian timbre will be a welcome sound to members of Leafs Nation who believe the player-friendly Sheldon Keefe, an AHL call-up initially learning the NHL ropes himself, was too gentle and accommodating.

The Calahoo, Alberta-born Berube arrives with a 76-diamond Stanley Cup ring wrapped around his finger and enough pedigree to turn down opportunities in Ottawa, New Jersey, and whichever coach-hunting city came knocking after he was dismissed midseason by the Blues.  

When Berube asks his players to fight for their ice and earn their shifts, those demands will spring from a place of authenticity and with four years of job security.

An undrafted bottom-six winger in his playing days, Berube scratched and clawed and punched his way to a 17-season, 1,054-game, 3,149-penalty-minute career with the Flyers, Leafs, Flames, Capitals and Islanders.

After his first taste running an NHL bench, in his beloved Philadelphia from 2013 to 2015, Berube latched onto an interim gig with the underachieving 2018-19 Blues and led the franchise to its first and only championship. 

For his efforts, he was named a finalist for the 2019 Jack Adams Award and became the league’s most coveted bench boss nearly five years later.

With the deep coffers of MLSE at his disposal and armed with new CEO Keith Pelley’s mandate to “just win,” Treliving went out and paid for the best-experienced man available (sorry, Todd McLellan).

It’s of little surprise that an executive who arrived in search of more “snot” wrapped his narrow coaching search upon meeting with a man who could beat the snot out of anyone in his path.

What we’re most interested in is how Berube unifies Toronto’s elite talent and its supporting cast. 

[brightcove videoID=6353128939112 playerID=JCdte3tMv height=360 width=640]

That Blues group he coached to glory was hardly studded with stars, yet it was balanced and fierce. Its offence sprung from honest defence. It didn’t take shortcuts or shifts off.

“Winning teams have the unique ability for everybody to feel if they weren’t a part of it, they wouldn’t accomplish their goal,” Treliving said, after firing Keefe and before hiring Berube.

“Regardless of minutes played, dollars earned, everybody’s important. And that is what is going to happen here.”

To that end, Berube and his boss should be well aligned.

How a heavier hand rubs the current core, however, will be of great interest.

If anything, Berube — who will be formally introduced Tuesday morning in Toronto —ushers in a wave of much-needed hope to a team whose disappointments are growing stale. 

His championship Blues, you may recall, had not won a Stanley Cup since they were founded in … 1967.

The man can help quench 50-year-old droughts.

When submitting content, please abide by our submission guidelines, and avoid posting profanity, personal attacks or harassment. Should you violate our submissions guidelines, we reserve the right to remove your comments and block your account. Sportsnet reserves the right to close a story’s comment section at any time.