Craig Berube was able to select the Toronto Maple Leafs as his next NHL head coach, despite having other possibilities.

After yet another disappointing postseason run, Toronto is a team in disarray, with rumors about the future of many of its key players, such as Mitch Marner and John Tavares, flying high. But Berube believes the Leafs have promise even in their current state, which is why he chose to sit behind the bench once more in a competitive Canadian market.

“The core player group is great here, which was one of the attractions,” Berube stated at his press conference on Tuesday. “Coaching this team was undoubtedly one of the reasons I wanted to come. There are some excellent players on the roster, and this is a fantastic chance to develop a club that can advance and, if not improve, at least level up a little bit. Additionally, you want to collaborate with excellent individuals, and these are wonderful people who share my views on how we should develop as a team and play.”

Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews has one more shot to reach 70-goal  milestone

Berube was brought in by the Leafs on Friday to take Sheldon Keefe’s place. Keefe was fired on May 9 after Toronto lost to Boston in their Stanley Cup playoff series in the first round. The Leafs had three straight seasons with 100 or more points in the regular season, but it was the third time in four seasons under Keefe that they had not advanced to the postseason.

The coaching change took place in the midst of ongoing criticism of Toronto’s core for underperforming once again in the playoffs. Marner and Tavares were unimpressive in the seven-game series against Boston, scoring three and two points, respectively, while William Nylander and Auston Matthews were both out due to injury. As their contracts come to an end, they can both sign extensions with the Leafs, starting on July 1. Whether Toronto can afford to maintain both skaters is the question, both literally and figuratively.

Over $40 million of Toronto’s current cap space is accounted for by Matthews, Nylander, Marner, and Tavares; this is an unsustainable position that has prevented the Leafs from adding more supporting players to bolster their roster, particularly during the playoffs.

Berube asserted that he was unconcerned with Toronto’s well-known core issues or the team’s performance while relying on them thus far.

“That stuff is in the past, to be honest with you,” Berube replied. “I’m thinking about both the here and now. It goes without saying that I will contribute my own style here and in the way we wish to play the game. Both [president Brendan Shanahan] and [general manager Brad Treliving] agree with that and share my viewpoint. All I can do is concentrate on how we want to develop this squad going forward and how we want to appear on the ice.”

That should be championship-caliber, hopefully. Berube has been there before, having led the St. Louis Blues to a Stanley Cup victory in 2019. When Berube was promoted to replace the fired Mike Yeo in November 2018, that team was at the bottom of the standings. Under Berube’s leadership, St. Louis won its first championship. He stayed with the Blues until their release in December 2023, at which point he took some time to consider his future coaching move.

With a four-year contract in hand, Berube is now firmly established with the Leafs and excited to begin work on a retool that includes players other than Toronto’s highly compensated core.

For me, it’s all about the team, Berube stated. “Every member of the team is vital. Each member of the squad must be utilized. Additionally, they all have key responsibilities on the team, which is something I find really vital. We aim to be a heavy club that plays quickly and in a northerly direction. I don’t mean running guys through boards, fighting and all that crap when I talk about heaviness. The game has evolved. However, you still need to be adept with pucks. You must prevail in puck fights. Those, along with playing it straight, predictable and as quickly as possible, are my top priorities. Organization is essential, and establishing structure in each of the three zones will be a top focus.”

Treliving reported that he had meetings with at least nine potential head coaches of the Leafs. But Berube’s ability to get the best out of players and hold them accountable was what kept Treliving coming back to him, and the two share a belief about how to help the Leafs get past the obstacles that have hampered them so much in the past.

“One, two, three, four, or five people are not relevant to this. It’s all about the team,” Treliving stated. “The Toronto Maple Leafs are the subject. You may use all the trendy phrases about “core four” on the outside, but what really matters is a team, the ability to assemble a team, and the capacity to relate to players. You must be able to force individuals into awkward situations, but first you must establish a connection with them. A relationship, a partnership, and trust are required. And for me, being present is crucial. Craig possesses it; you can’t have it all the time.”

The question at hand is how Berube intends to recreate the leaves. Regarding future assistant coach selections, Berube remained ambiguous, and Treliving and he both consistently avoided answering direct questions concerning player personnel. The most obvious takeaway was that Toronto is trying to develop for next season and beyond, and everything is on the table.

“You go through the roster of what we’ve got right now, with Craig giving me his thoughts and me giving him my thoughts,” Treliving said. However, it is the first day. We are going through the steps involved in forming a team. Today, we’re going to go right in. We have a team to evaluate, examine, and talk with the guys present to determine our next course of action. Most essential, go straight into our roster and begin working on that.”

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