Black Friday came early for Mike Yeo.
Doug Armstrong did not have any interest in waiting four more days for hockey’s benchmark, the day when it historically becomes that much more difficult to make it back into the black and the Stanley Cup playoffs, to take stock of the St. Louis Blues.
Nineteen games of woeful underachievement was enough.
Armstrong fired Yeo as the Blues’ head coach early Tuesday morning, within hours of a listless shutout loss to the NHL’s most anemic offence in the Los Angeles Kings. Yeo became the third NHL coach fired in less than three weeks, just one year after no coaches were fired in-season for the first time in the league’s post-expansion history.
Armstrong announced associate coach Craig Berube will take over for Yeo on an interim basis.
Naturally, the temporary tag attached to Berube led to rampant overnight speculation about whether the Blues might bring back Joel Quenneville, who was fired by Chicago exactly two weeks earlier.
Quenneville, 60, began his march to second on the all-time wins list in St. Louis in 1996 and remained with the Blues for parts of eight seasons, which included seven straight playoff appearances.
Those close to Quenneville say the three-time Stanley Cup winner only has interest in stepping into a situation with a ready-made contender. Do the Blues qualify for that status? They have one of the best regular season records (.611 points percentage) since 2010, but have only four playoff series wins to show for it.
The next hurdle would be money. Quenneville has one more season remaining at $6 million, the second-highest coaches salary in the NHL to only Toronto’s Mike Babcock. The Blackhawks would likely require the hiring team to pay more than half of that figure, maybe even more for a division rival like the Blues, to allow ‘Q’ to coach against them. Would the traditionally small-market Blues be interested in paying that much?
Armstrong will address the media at 10am local time on Tuesday morning.
At the end of the day, it would not be surprising to see Armstrong give Berube an extended run at the job, considering he’s already done what the Blues need.
Berube, 52, spent parts of two seasons as head coach in Philadelphia from 2013-15, where he compiled a 75-58-28 record and rallied the Flyers from a disastrous first half to make the playoffs.
The Flyers were 7-10-2 at this point during Berube’s first season. The Blues are 7-9-3 now.
The record will show that Yeo was done-in by a loss to the only team below the Blues in the NHL standings. That being shut out by a Kings team led by an interim coach in Willie Desjardins begot another interim coach.
The truth is that Armstrong had been displeased for weeks about the state of his team. Yeo’s comments going back to November raised eyebrows about his job security.
The Blues were a trendy pick to contend for the Central Division. They have only trended downward.
“Heck, my job should be in question right now,” Yeo said on Oct. 25. “Of course that comes with the trade. But I’m not going to coach to try to save my job. I’m going to coach to try to win the Stanley Cup.”
To hear Yeo explain it, the Blues’ offence went quiet at the wrong time. They were shut out for the third time in four games on Monday night. They’ve scored in just two of their last 13 periods. The power play is in the midst of an 0-for-17 drought.
He criticized his team after Monday’s loss, saying they take only the “easy ice which leads to not really being a threat.” It didn’t help that Jaden Schwartz, Alex Steen and Pat Maroon have all missed time with injury.
“It’s maddening because we can’t seem to put it all together at the same time,” Yeo said postgame, clearly unaware of what was coming. "We do it the odd game. Earlier in the year, we’re scoring goals and the defensive game isn’t there. We clean up the defensive game and now we’re not scoring goals.”
Yes, for once, the Blues have gotten solid goaltending. Jake Allen allowed four goals on his last 85 shots faced (.955 save percentage) under Yeo. His save percentage was a paltry .879 in his 11 appearances before that, an impossible number to win with in today’s NHL.
Even with the recent surge, Allen has climbed to an .895 mark for the season, good for 31st out of 40 netminders league-wide with at least eight appearances so far. Not good enough.
The only player immune from criticism is Ryan O’Reilly, the star summer acquisition that hyped the Blues’ expectations. O’Reilly has 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points in his first 19 games wearing The Note.
St. Louis hasn’t come close to living up to expectations, both now mired in the basement of the Central, and throughout Armstrong’s tenure so far. Yeo, the man snatched up in 2016 to be the heir apparent to Ken Hitchcock, was the latest to pay the price as his boss plots out the next move ahead of the biggest shopping day on the calendar.
Contact Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @frank_seravalli