Skip to main content

SCOREBOARD

Leafs head coach Berube talks accountability and communication

Published

The Maple Leafs formally introduced new head coach Craig Berube during a news conference at the Ford Performance Centre on Tuesday.

---

Brad Treliving says he met with "upward of nine individuals" about Toronto's head coaching vacancy, but the search always came back to Craig Berube.

"The homework you do on the people who worked with, worked for, and played for Craig, they talked about how they would go through a wall for him," the Maple Leafs general manager said. "There was the connection he had with his players, the accountability he had with his players, and the bond he was able to build with staff. Ultimately, character matters. That is with your team and that is, most importantly, with your head coach."

There was a consistent theme when the Leafs reached out to talk to players, who were coached by Berube.

"It was first liners, it was fourth liners, Canadian guys and European guys, players who played different styles and had different backgrounds," said president Brendan Shanahan. "They all came back to us with the same message, 'He is a great coach and a great person.' As Brad said, 'I would go through a wall for the guy.'"

The Leafs have continually hit a wall in the playoffs in this era with just one series win since drafting Auston Matthews in 2016. It will be up to Berube to get the group over the hump much like he did with the St. Louis Blues in 2019 when he led that franchise to its first ever Stanley Cup title.

"It is all about the team for me," Berube said. "That is one of the things I really focus on. That is part of building a team. Everybody is important on a team. Everyone has to be used on a team. They all have jobs and roles on the team. That is a really important aspect for me."

That echoes what Treliving talked about in his introductory news conference last May. The highly-talented and highly-paid core of Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly garners much of the attention in the centre of the hockey universe.

"The outside can use all kinds of catchy phrases about core fours, fives, and threes, but it is about a team," Treliving said on Tuesday. "The ability to build a team, and the ability to connect with players."

Berube noted that he had already spoke with most of the Leafs players on the phone, as well as some in person, since signing what TSN Hockey Insider Pierre LeBrun reports is a four-year deal on Friday.

"To hold players accountable and for players to understand the accountability, you have to form a partnership," Berube said. "I think it starts in the summertime, getting to know these players, them getting to understand what I am all about, how I am going to coach, and how I am going to coach each individual and the team. When you have to hold a player accountable for whatever — it could be ice time or whatever the situation is — they understand it more. Communication is huge. One of my strengths is that I am a great communicator with my players. They know where they stand. I am going to tell them when they are playing well, when they are not playing well, and what they need to improve upon. Accountability is accepted almost by your players when you have that partnership."

Berube brushed off a question about past playoff failures in Toronto saying that he preferred to focus on the future.

"The core player group is great here," he stressed. "That was definitely one of the attractions to come and coach this team."

ContentId(1.2123737): Berube: Accountability is accepted by the players when you have a good partnership

---

Berube will demand accountability, but don't expect him to be calling out players in the media too much.

"I don't really bring that up publicly very often," he noted. "I can think of a couple of times when I have done that. For the most part, it is all internal. It is with my players and management. I keep that stuff internal for the most part."

Berube is well aware of how crazy the Toronto market can be.

"That is all part of the job," he said. "If you want to come here and coach, you already understand that, which I do ... It is not going to be weighing on my shoulders at all."

In fact, Berube is inspired by the chance to take over the bench of the Original Six club.

"As a Canadian-born kid, if you get a chance to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs, I am going to jump on that," the Calahoo, Alta. native said.

Berube played 40 games for the Leafs during the 1991-92 season.

"I had the opportunity to play here a little bit, way back in the day," Berube said. "It is nothing but first-class here. It is a first-class organization. I am very honoured to be the head coach."

Treliving highlighted the fact Berube spent a decade in the Philadelphia Flyers organization. Berube worked as an assistant coach and a head coach with the Philadelphia Phantoms in the American Hockey League before making the jump to the Flyers bench as an assistant coach and eventually head coach.

"I look at Craig as a long-time organizational man in the Flyers organization," Treliving said. "To me, that is meaningful. Craig had been there and done every job in a rich-tradition franchise such as Philadelphia. Really, the first time he ventured out of that organization was to another organization, St. Louis, which I consider to be one of the more successful teams over the last decade. He won a championship there."

ContentId(1.2123736): 'It's all about the team for me': Berube explains what he'll bring as Maple Leafs coach

---

Berube brings instant credibility to the Leafs bench.

"Presence is an important thing for me," Treliving said. "You either have it or you don't. Craig has it."

Berube played more than 1,000 games in the NHL before making the jump to coaching. 

"He has touched every step on the ladder," Treliving said.

As the Leafs did their research on Berube, Treliving revealed that a former teammate and a former coach both called him "quietly brilliant" when it comes to the tactical side of the game and being a teacher. So, what will the Leafs be learning when training camp opens in September?

"We want to play a north game," Berube said. "We want to play fast. We want to be a heavy team. When I talk about heaviness, it is not running guys through the boards and fighting. Listen, the game has changed, but you still have to be strong on pucks and win puck battles. Those are priorities for me. Playing predictable and north. Playing as fast as we can. Structure is huge. We have to have structure in all three zones. That is going to be a priority."

Berube stressed that he is very much aligned with Treliving on how he wants the team to play.

"Watching the playoffs this year with them, there was already that change kind of going on with how they want to be built and play," Berube noted. "That is Brad bringing that in."

Treliving prioritized adding what he termed "snot" last summer in signing edgy forwards like Max Domi, Tyler Bertuzzi and Ryan Reaves. Before the trade deadline he acquired burly blueliners Ilya Lyubushkin and Joel Edmundson, who played for Berube in St. Louis.

Domi, Bertuzzi, Lyubushkin and Edmundson are all pending unrestricted free agents.

ContentId(1.2123743): 7-Eleven That’s Hockey: Berube era officially begins in Toronto

---

Berube and Shanahan actually dropped their gloves a couple times during their playing days. A video of one of those scraps from 1989 made the rounds on social media after Berube was confirmed to be the team's new head coach.

"When I came in as an 18-year-old, I was playing in the bottom six, and I played a lot against Craig," Shanahan recalled. "I got put on the first line about halfway through my second year. I was doing really well on the first line. Craig came up to me in the middle of a game and said, 'I guess you are not going to fight us guys anymore.' I said, 'Let's go.'"

Shanahan smiled. 

"At the end of the fight, I said, 'He might have had it right. Maybe I should stop doing that.' He was a competitor. You always knew he was on the ice. He has translated that to his career in coaching."

Berube amassed more than 3,000 penalty minutes in his career.

"We had more than that run-in throughout our careers," Shanahan noted. "We had a Stanley Cup final against each other later on in the '90s. He was just a guy who played for a long time and played the same way for a long time."

---

Treliving "immersed" himself in the coaching search, which he described as a "nonstop process" following the firing of Sheldon Keefe on May 9.

"That file has been all-encompassing," he said.

But this is only the start of what Treliving acknowledges will be a busy summer.

"We have our amateur scouts in town," he said. "We are going through our amateur scouting meetings yesterday, today and tomorrow. We have our pro-scouting meetings at the end of the week. And then we will dig into our player personnel."

Marner and Tavares are both entering the final year of their current contracts, which means they are eligible to sign extensions on July 1. Both indicated they want to do so. However, the team will consider shaking up the core group after they fell to 0-5 in Game 7s in this era.

"We will look at everything," Treliving reiterated on Tuesday. "We have some really good players, and we don't want to lose sight of that. But now Craig and I will sit down and start to dig into all of the other areas, roster construction and those type of things."

The team also needs to make decisions on the rest of the coaching staff. Guy Boucher, Manny Malhotra, Dean Chynoweth, Mike Van Ryn and goalie coach Curtis Sanford were all part of Keefe's staff. Van Ryn also worked with Berube in St. Louis.

"I know there are coaches here already," Berube acknowledged. "One that I worked with before. We have to discuss all of that stuff with Brad and Brendan."

ContentId(1.2123735): Treliving believes Berube is the best fit for Leafs: Players 'would go through a wall for him'