One of the problems we have as humans is that we love to classify everything. It makes things easier for our brains to comprehend if you put everything into a category, but this also limits our imagination and perception. Such is the case now with St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube.
When the St. Louis Blues won the 2019 Stanley Cup, Blues fans were overjoyed. The way the team won was simply perfect for this city.
They won by playing a team concept, an intensely physical style and just grinding teams into dust. You have to have offense, but the Blues were not scoring goals at will and simply won by grit and determination on many nights. Having a hot goaltender didn’t hurt either.
Yet, with success comes an odd need say that’s the only way it can be done. That is not only done by fans, but media as well.
On a recent national podcast, covering one team per show, one of the detractions they gave for the Blues is their belief that the current cast of players does not fit that mold. Thus, their belief is Craig Berube cannot win with the current group.
That’s a bunch of nonsense. The idea that Berube is a one-note kind of coach is just ridiculous.
The reason it is bothersome is it completely goes against what we’ve actually seen from Berube. The oversimplification of what has been successful for him in his tenure with the Blues makes no sense.
From the fan perspective, they complain about similar things with Ken Hitchcock. Supposedly Berube only favors veteran players and holds someone like Klim Kostin back.
Kostin did not flourish here, but he was not doing something the coaches needed. He was given opportunities up and down the lineup, which is often something you could not say with Hitch.
Hitch’s version of giving a guy a look was to play someone with top-six potential on the fourth line with two grinders on their line. There’s little chance to showcase talent that way. Kostin played on just about every line except, perhaps, the top one.
Additionally, Berube was in charge of the Blues farm system. That’s half the reason he was promoted to an assistant and then head coach – he already had a rapport with the younger players that he had coached with the Chicago Wolves.
From a media perspective, they seem to think Berube only wants an old-school type of player. They are under the impression he has to have giant defensemen and only wants his team to throw body checks all game long.
No offense, but Berube was one of the people that said the Blues could not play the style from the 2019 playoffs for an 82-game schedule. While Berube does not have a final say on player contracts or trades made, if he was incapable of utilizing a smaller, more athletic defenseman, I highly doubt the team would have transitioned that direction.
Berube himself has said that winning is the only thing that matters to him. If they have to outscore teams 6-5 or win games 2-1, it doesn’t really matter to him as long as the Blues are the one with more goals.
Yes, Berube demands a certain mentality and responsibility from his players. He wants them to play a 200-foot game, but he’s not asking any more than they are capable of.
If the Blues somehow acquired Connor McDavid, Berube would not ask him to throw his body around like Sammy Blais used to or Alexei Toropchenko does now. All Berube asks is that if you make a mistake, you attempt to correct it. If you turn the puck over, you cannot just stand there and watch the opponent speed off the other way while you hang your head.
Berube is not trying to put handcuffs on a player like Robert Thomas or Jordan Kyrou. He has merely asked they be responsible with the puck. Don’t skate yourself into trouble and simply hand the puck over because you ran out of options.
The Blues set a club record for the amount of goals they scored in 2021-22. That did not happen in spite of their coach.
Berube is more than willing to let his talented players do their thing. In fact, he often wants the Blues to push forward, but more as five-man units, not just one or two guys up by themselves.
Sure, Berube knows the physical side of the game because that’s the role he had. He would not be a very good coach if that’s all he wanted from his players though.
Also, it just happened that the Blues had bigger defenders in 2019. That team was not constructed with Berube specifically in mind since he started the year as an assistant.
Also, Berube had varied defenders in Philadelphia. When he was coach, he had two D-men at 5’10, a couple at 6’2 and a 6’5 guy. He had puck movers and physical guys.
Berube coaches the players he has, not the scheme he demands. If you put in the effort, he lets you play your way as long as it is not to the detriment of the team.
The Blues play a physical brand because it has proven it can win. They don’t have unbelievable team speed or four lines of guys that can dangle on a string. They have individual players that can do those things, but the responsibility aspect protects the players that cannot do those things from having to make up for any miscues from those that can.
Like any coach, Berube can only be as successful as his goaltender and the players in front. Berube has won 64% of his games with the Blues because he has got them to buy into his philosophy, not because he has forced square pegs into round holes.
Let’s not pigeonhole Berube just because he figured out how to win with a team that was not as talented top to bottom as some of the opponents the Blues faced. Berbue simply figures out ways to win, not just because he had a bunch of bruisers.