Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues.
It’s not often that an interim coach is handed the keys to a last-place team and ends up winning the Stanley Cup in the same season.
Not impossible, as Craig Berube proved last season. Just incredibly unlikely.
Berube was as much of an X-factor for the Blues as, say, Jordan Binnington. Without Berube, who knows where the Blues would have ended up. The man known as a ‘Chief’ brought a disjointed team together and began sprinting toward the finish line at a fervent pace.
The decision to hand Binnington the reins, an 11-game winning streak that followed suit, and a renewed camaraderie amongst the players all happened under Berube’s watch after Mike Yeo was handed his walking papers near the end of November.
“Craig made an enormous impact on our team when he took over last November,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said after the team stripped the interim tag and handed Berube a three-year deal. “He restored our identity and provided our players with a clear sense of direction.”
If that’s not X-factor material, I don’t know what is.
Berube is now tasked with maintaining the team culture he created with, by-and-large, the same contingent of players that he led to the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
It’s a tall order.
Nothing was really expected from Berube when he took over. Sure, Blues fans and brass alike would have wanted to see things pointing in the right direction, but never could they have imagined what took place from Jan. 7 onward.
Ask any Blues player and they’ll say it was Berube that was the team’s catalyst as they reversed their fortunes.
Berube, as Armstrong said, instilled an identity and within a month or so, it began to take shape on the ice.
Berube showed that you don’t have to have a flashy team with many superstars to get the job done. And he’ll have another go at proving that is, indeed, the case.
He’ll have the “Stanley Cup hangover” to contend with an, perhaps, a pinch of complacency, even if it is only early on.
The biggest thing the Blues can do is get off to a good start. Stave off any of those hangover effects by stringing a few wins together to begin the season.
You won’t find the impact of a coach in a simple math equation (or a complex one, either.) But simply having a team believe in your cause is a massive boon to any bench boss. The players can now attest that Berube’s direction works, so they can certainly get behind his next installment as he develops the team into the rugged, hard-to-deal-with type that never gave up in last season’s playoffs.
There will be no surprises from the Blues this year. No underestimations from unsuspecting teams.
It will be on Beruble to navigate through that and more.