Is Berube the Right Coach for the 2021-22 Blues?
When you first read the title, you probably thought I was nuts. Why would I even ask that question? Is this just clickbait? What the f@#k is wrong with you? Are you F@#king out of your mind? Berube won us the Cup, don’t you remember?
Yes, I remember. Yes, he helped bring the Stanley Cup to St. Louis over two seasons ago. Craig Berube will enter the third of his three-year deal this season. In his first two years, he is 2-10-1 in the playoffs. Let that sink in. Berube has won only two playoff games since he lifted the Stanley Cup in Boston.
The Blues entered the Bubble as the number one seed in the West and the number two overall team in the league. This was a team built to repeat. Even the loss of sniper and superstar Vladimir Tarasenko did not stop this team from winning.
Alex Pietrangelo, Ryan O’Reilly, and emerging star David Perron lifted the note to heights not seen since 1999-2000. A cup favorite, a powerhouse, back-to-back was in our grasp. Then came Covid and the bubble.
General Manager Doug Armstrong stated that “Of our regular players I think we had like 20 percent of those guys that had COVID at some point.” After the Vancouver Canucks ousted the Blues in the first round on the 2020 bubble in six games. This is to go along with the loss of Tarasenko, who re-injured his surgically repaired shoulder.
The knowledge that so many players had tested positive and both Alex Steen and Tarasenko’s injuries, left fans thinking this is one that got away. I bought into the belief this was just a one-off. However, hindsight is 20/20.
Here we are in July 2021 watching our rivals compete for the Stanley Cup. We again heard how Covid affected the team along with injuries to Justin Faulk and Robert Bortuzzo. A four-game sweep by the President Trophy-winning Colorado Avalanche. The Blues had not been swept in the playoffs since losing to the L.A. Kings in the second round of the 2012 tournament.
The excuses coming from the fan base and the organization were like listening to the same song repeatedly, to the point you no longer liked the song. You just cannot get it out of your ear.
Here we go again. But wait, let’s freeze time. Let’s go back and see if there was something we missed. Why did we go from one of the best teams in the league to the 17th overhaul draft pick? One spot from the lottery.
While many point to Covid and the bubble, I started thinking there had to be more. The layoff should have helped not hurt. I was like Toby from the West Wing, bouncing a ball against a wall. Why did this happen, why did that happen? Like a bulldog with a bone, I would not let it go.
Then it hit me. It was February 11th, 2020, in Anaheim California. Why is this the date I came to? This is the date Jay Bouwmeester collapsed in front of his teammates. Medical attention was rendered, and they postponed the game.
This is a watershed moment, but the signs of a collapse were there, and we all missed them. On December 31st the Blues faced the Arizona Coyotes while on an eight-game winning streak.
This was not a Happy New Year Eve for the Blues. They fell to the Yotes three to one and would also lose the next two to Colorado and Vegas. January and February would be strings of wins and losses.
The Blues would have losing streaks of five games once, three games twice, two games once, and alternate wins and losses over the last four games. The Bouwmeester collapse came two games into the five-game losing steak. At the end of the losing streak was the second eight-game winning streak of the season.
One month after the postponed game, they played the make-up game. They honored Bouwmeester at that game along with the first responders. The very next day the world we lived in all changed. They paused the season.
It would be another 5 months before the NHL would resume. The Blues were the best in the West. they had the most points and the highest winning percentage. This team was poised to win. Was it really just COVID?
The last two losses to the Devils and Panthers seem more ominous now. I remember thinking how strong the Avalance were looking. The Blues and Avalanche were scheduled to play the last game of the season in Colorado. But that last game between them would not happen in April, but on August 2 in the bubble.
A one-one tie with mere seconds on the clock, when it happened. Nazem Kadri would receive a pass from behind the net, and fire the puck at an open net. The horn sounded, and the Avalanche celebrated. the play would be reviewed and with .1 seconds left the puck crossed the goal line.
Nazem Kadri's power-play goal in the final second of the third period gave the Avalanche a 2-1 win against the Blues in the opening game of the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers at Rogers Place in Edmonton. https://t.co/2jpSNhOfdl
— NHL.com (@NHLdotcom) August 3, 2020
While the bubble was bad enough for the Blues, the 2020-21 season was even worse. This is Berube’s toughest challenge I wrote in January. I even asked if he might be under the gun? Blues fans chastise me in almost every group. It was a bit of a learning experience for me. It should have been for Berube too.
When you break this season down, most people and analysts point to injuries, COVID, and the veterans underperforming. Not me. I can sum this season up in three words. Or rather names, that is. Hoffman and Sanford and Tarasenko.
Hoffman signs with the Blues
One of the biggest free agents heading into the truncated season was Mike Hoffman. Covid and the flat cap, along with the uncertainty of when the season would start, slowed the Free-Agent frenzie we are used to. Hoffman went unsigned all the way until a day before the season started. During the 10-day training camp, they offered him a Professional Try Out (PTO). When asked about Hoffman, one sentiment was, if he is so good why did he not get signed sooner.
Simple. the Salary Cap. Before March 12th the salary cap was reportedly going to go up between 5 and 6 million in 2020-2021. Covid changed all that. The flat cap came about and teams that thought there would be money to spend found themselves in Cap hell. Hoffman was a victim of that. Pure and simple. Over half of the teams in the NHL used the LTIR rules to become cap compliment. Tampa Bay did it to a tune of roughly $28 million dollars.
The second sentiment was the belief that Hoffman was a one-trick pony. He was outstanding on the power play and nothing else. Opponents to his signing point to his Minus – 19 career +/- rating. During a three-year stretch with Ottawa Hoffman was Plus +34. His +/-rating took a hit in 2017-18 when he had 56 points (22G, 34A) and was a minus -20.
What happened? Basically, the entire team in Ottawa forgot how to play defense. The Senators’ goal difference was minus -65. That season 44 players played at least one shift for Ottawa. Only nine were plus players, and ten including Hoffman were greater than minus -10.
What does this all mean? Hoffman can play defense. He was a plus +2 with the Blues this season. But somehow Hoffman ended up in the Berube god house. Playing mainly on the third line. Berube forced him to forecheck and he was not given highly skilled line-mates to work with.
At one point near the trading deadline, He was a healthy scratch. While, at the same time, there were others who performed worse, but the coach rewarded him with more ice-time and better line mates. I am betting we all know who this is.
Zach Sanford. Move your feet.
I kind of wish I was a hacker or a cyber sleuth. I want to get into Sanford’s computers and find the damaging evidence he has against Berube. Ok, I do not know if any exists but during the season on the BlueNote Fan Report, countless fans asked the same question.
Sanford made mistake after mistake. Each one it seems ending up in the back of the net. Sandford was constantly out of position, or he would miss-play a puck in the offensive zone. I live in Hawaii 4200 miles away from St. Louis, but I swear I could hear every Blues fan scream MOVE YOUR FEET SANFORD. Every single game.
Each time a player would come off the DL the fan base would say bench Sanford, yet alas there he was making the same mistakes. Berube kept sending him out there while chastising other players for their mistakes and benching them or sending them down.
Even the newest of fans would comment on the pregame shows why is Sanford still in the line-up? There was a strong feeling this team was missing something, and that the team cohesion we had seen in the past was missing. we just Need to Get Tarasenko back, or so we all thought.
Tarasenko wants out!!!! What???
F@#k where do I start. So we have written much about the situation. Both Rob Staggenborg and I have expended many hours tapping away at our keyboards and waxing poetically on the BlueNote Fan Report. In the last week we have released, #91 Wants Out, we think “Tank” Should Stay. Blues Fans, Rub Off On Tarasenko in 91 Wrong Ways, Rip the Band-Aid off – Bye Bye Vladi #91’s time has come, and Tarasenko Rumors fly, is 91 on the Move?
Yet here we are talking about it again. Tarasenko Switch his agent this season because he was unhappy with his ice-time and position on the power play. Coupled with his displeasure with the Blues medical staff has turned this once tight-knit unit into mush.
This Season Tarasenko added a poke check to his defensive repertoire that was impressive to watch. Only to be chastised by the coaching staff for not scoring and “Playing better.” Talk about mixed signals.
What’s the Answer?
As Complicated as it sounds, the answer simply lies with the “Chief.” In a Reddit Poll, 50% of the respondents gave the coach a “C” grade from the Bubble till now.
Reddit user Downvote_Comforter summed it up the best for me.
I understand grading him lower, but my primary complaint with the Blues is roster construction. We have lost players that excelled in the style Berube had amazing success with and added players whose flaws are in direct contradiction to that system. Berube has failed to adapt his system to the new roster construction, but my primary complaint is changing too much of the identity from a successful one and asking the coach to adapt to that.
I think the Cup win and surrounding circumstances of COVID weirdness since the bubble have earned him enough rope to not get fired yet. If I had to bet on it, I’d wager that he doesn’t earn a B or higher next season. But I agree with the organizational decision to give him a chance at turning the team around.”
Berube must adjust to the players he has on his roster and use them to the best of their abilities. It really is that simple. Adjust or bust.
I know a few people out there think I have it in for Berube, yes I am talking to you Mr. Monton. I don’t, I want him to succeed. If he wins, the Blues win. Again, that simple.
While many fans are giving him a long rope, others aren’t. One more thing that has not been talked about is this is Berube last year of his contract and on extension has been talked about. Most GMs dislike having a coach on the last year of a deal because it presents a “Lame Duck” scenario.
The fact that one has not even hit the rumor mill makes me wonder if his leash this season might be a bit short. I want him to adjust and raise a second and maybe a third banner in the Enterprise Center. Nothing would be sweeter.
Yes, I am not a Berube hater. But I am a Berube realest. the Cup was just freaking amazing. but unfortunately, it has a shelf life. For me, that period has come and gone. This season is critical for both the coaching staff and the front office.
Chief I hope you are as ready for this upcoming season and we fans are.
Till Next time Hockey Fans.