After the Washington Capitals finally won a Stanley Cup last season, head coach Barry Trotz figured it was time for a nice raise.
The most tenured coach in the league, he had noticed how less-accomplished contemporaries were making much more than he and that bothered him. So he asked the Capitals to treat him fairly. They did not.
Instead of compensating Trotz, the Capitals let him become a free agent and he ultimately signed a nice deal with the New York Islanders.
The Trotz saga has been on our minds since the St. Louis Blues completed their remarkable worst-to-first tun to this year’s championship. A lot of the success was due to coach Craig Berube, who took over the team as an interim in November and presided over the biggest about face in league history.
Would the Blues reward Berube for what occurred? Or would they allow him to languish?
The Blues answered that question Tuesday by signing Berube to a three-year deal. Terms of the contract were not announced.
“Craig made an enormous impact on our team when he took over last November,” general manager Doug Armstrong said in a statement. “He restored our identity and provided our players with a clear sense of direction and purpose. The chemistry and trust that he developed with our players was integral in bringing our franchise the 2019 Stanley Cup.”
It was Armstrong who told the media before the before the start of the Western Conference finals he has only one candidate in mind for the job. And that’s how it turned out.
“Very approachable,” forward Brayden Schenn told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Berube during the season. “Very fun to be around. Demands a lot of his players, but that’s what you want as a player. You want your coach to be able to go up to talk to you and say, ‘How’s it going?’ At the same time when it’s game time, to be hard on you. I think guys respect that.”
Berube, 53, a former player who made his reputation banging bodies with the Philadelphia Flyers, was coaching the Blues’ American Hockey League team when the organization decided to fire coach Mike Yeo after just 19 games and the blues under .500 (7-9-3).
The change did not have an immediate impact. The Blues struggled for the next month and by Jan. 3 were dead last in the NHL standings. But then something happened.
Berube made a subtle change in the team’s environment. He took down the NHL standings that were hanging at its practice rink, his way of reminding everyone there was plenty of time to get things headed in the right direction.
The Blues rolled off an 11-game winning streak behind rookie goalie Jordan Binnington. And over the last 45 games (30-10-5) they had the best record in the league.
After making it into the playoffs, they defeated the Winnipeg Jets, Dallas Stars and San Jose Sharks to proceed to their first Stanley Cup final in 49 years. And then the Blues won the deciding Game 7 in Boston.
Ironically, Berube was a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as the coach of the year. The winner? Barry Trotz.
“This is a proud day for me and my family,” Berube said in the statement. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for this team and this organization and the city of St. Louis has embraced me as one of their own. This past season was the experience of a lifetime and I’m anxious to get started on our title defense.”
As we mentioned, Berube was basically the toughest guy on the ice during his 17-year playing career with five organizations. After his retirement he decided to become a coach and got his start with Philadelphia’s AHL team in 2006-07. By the next season, he was temporarily promoted to the NHL as an assistant.
Berube became coach of the Flyers in 2013, but he was fired by former general manager Ron Hextall in April 2015 and resurfaced with the Blues organization, leading their AHL team in Chicago.
At the NHL Draft last week, he told the Post-Dispatch what he most enjoyed about the season.
“The day-in and day-out operations, and just being around the team every day,” he said. “Going through what you go through in the playoffs. It’s enjoyable for me. That’s why I do this job. I enjoy that part of it. So it’s nothing but fun for me.”
Berube and Larry Robinson (New Jersey in 2000) are the only two interim coaches ever to lead their team to the Stanley Cup championship.