When the St. Louis Blues made a coaching change in the 2018-19 season, nobody knew the success it would have. Now the question is whether the league is incorrectly using that decision as a template.
When the St. Louis Blues relieved Mike Yeo of his duties in mid-November of 2019, it was not as though they were shaking the foundations of history. This was not the first time a coach had been let go once a season began and, in fact, not even the first time the Blues or Doug Armstrong even had done it.
In fact, the Blues have done it six times since the century began in the year 2000. Each time there was moderate to solid success, giving the franchise the opinion it had made the right decision.
When the Blues did it this most recent time, nobody knew what affect it would have on a team that was floundering near the league bottom despite several key offseason additions over the last few summers. While you always dream, nobody in their right mind said on that day Craig Berube is leading this team to a Stanley Cup this year.
The main goal was just to get back into the playoff picture and reevaluate in the offseason. The Blues did not even remove the interim tag from Berube until the season was over with. Winning a Stanley Cup was just a special thing that had as much to do with a talented team finally living up to its own self as it did with the coaching change.
Despite that fact, it is hard not to wonder if other teams are seeing the change as what truly spurred the team onto greatness. The NHL is a copycat league, as are most professional leagues.
Most of the time, teams copy a champion’s style. Pittsburgh and Chicago won with speed and skill so everyone, including the Blues, concludes you must get faster.
Los Angeles and St. Louis won more with size and grit. Suddenly teams are looking to add either bigger guys with talent or some sandpaper, aka Tampa adding Pat Maroon.
However, with a rash of coaching changes – some forced, others not – it is hard not to speculate. The most recent change really has some scratching their heads.
Gerard Gallant was the most recent coach relieved of his duties when the Vegas Golden Knights fired him on January 15, 2020. Gallant was the seventh coach fired in the 2019-20 season and there have been more than 10 coaches losing jobs over the last season and a half.
Every situation is different, so to fully compare it to the Blues is not apples to apples. Jim Montgomery, as we found out, was let go because of an apparent alcohol problem.
Pete DeBoer was fired by the Sharks because the message seemed to have gotten stale and the team was wallowing near the bottom of their division. Some of the other coaches were let go because of alleged verbal or physical abuse or incidents that happened earlier in their careers.
The Peter Laviolette firing could go either way. Perhaps the message got old, but it seems strange they suddenly parted way with one of their most successful coaches when the Nashville Predators simply do not fire coaches.
Regardless of the public reasons given, it is hard to clear the back of one’s mind that the DeBoer, Laviolette and Gallant firings would have happened in just the same manner if the Blues had not won it all last year. San Jose is not in last place and let some key pieces walk, so to assume they were still going to be at the top of the division was folly anyway.
Vegas was in first place in their division just a week before Gallant was let go. It was only a four-game losing streak that took them outside the playoff picture in a very tight conference picture.
DeBoer, regardless of what Blues fans think of him, has proven to be a solid coach. He took the Sharks to two conference finals and one Stanley Cup Final. That’s on top of him taking the New Jersey Devils to a Cup Final as well. So, it is understandable why the Golden Knights would go that route in hiring him.
The difference, if there is any of the Blues success entering into this, is it was a perfect storm of a situation. The Blues were already good and had added some special talent, like Brayden Schenn and Ryan O’Reilly.
Berube already had lots of coaching experience, both as a head coach in the league and with the players on the team. He knew what made guys tick since he coached several of them in the AHL when the Chicago Wolves were the Blues affiliate and then again when he was Yeo’s assistant.
He was not entering a situation where things were brand new or trying to reinvent the team’s wheel. He was just trying to get them to live up to their potential and did so by simplifying things.
DeBoer takes over a team with the talent to win, but how much of his style and scheme will be different? Ask Berube. It is hard to make in-season changes. The Sharks had a brief bump, but are still around .500 even after their change.
Maybe this idea is overreaching. Maybe it is just another example of teams needing a change and figuring this is the right time. There are always extenuating circumstances, as Greg Wyshynski points out.
Still, from a perspective of seeing how it worked perfectly for the Blues, it is not an impossible conclusion to jump to. If that is actually happening, teams need to be careful though.
The NHL is a copycat league, so who knows whether Berube and the Blues’ “blueprint” is being followed. A lot went right for the Blues beyond just a coaching change in 2019-20 however.