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Berube was always the obvious hire for Maple Leafs

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It was always going to be Craig Berube in Toronto, wasn't it?

The Maple Leafs hired the former St. Louis Blues bench boss Friday in a move that should surprise nobody.

Barring the unlikely scenario that Carolina Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind'Amour became available, Berube was the most obvious fit for the Maple Leafs from Day 1. Optically, it made too much sense.

A 2019 Stanley Cup winner with the Blues, Berube is an easy sell to the fans and holdover players for a team that's consistently come up short in the postseason. The Leafs have made the playoffs eight straight years - tied for the longest active streak in the league - but only have one series victory to show for it. The franchise hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1967.

Having a Stanley Cup ring doesn't mean Berube has some magic formula for winning. If that were the case, he'd still be in St. Louis. But it undoubtedly helps begin his tenure in Toronto with a certain level of respect that his predecessor lacked.

When NHL teams look for a new head coach, they typically hire someone different from their last bench boss, and that couldn't be more true with this move.

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Sheldon Keefe, the Leafs' coach of the last five seasons, took the job without any prior NHL coaching experience. His puck-possession system was highly successful in the regular season, and he'll likely coach in the NHL for a long time. But accountability was a persistent issue during his tenure. In the Keefe era with Kyle Dubas as general manager, Toronto's star players were treated like the innocent, youngest sibling that could do no wrong. Rarely were they criticized publicly by the team for their shortcomings.

Berube will help establish a culture of accountability that the Leafs have lacked in recent years.

"There were some words that were said that I can't repeat," former Blues goalie Jake Allen recalled of Berube's first time addressing the team as head coach in 2018-19, per The Athletic's Joshua Kloke. "(Berube) made his presence felt immediately. We understood from that moment on that every single person in that locker room was accountable for their own actions, and he was going to hold you to that standard."

By all accounts, Berube is honest and direct. That's fitting because when Berube's Blues were at their best, they were a hard-working team with a direct, north-south style of play. How that works with the Maple Leafs remains to be seen, but general manager Brad Treliving - hired a year ago - is clearly trying to build a blue line that mimics the 2019 Blues.

That Cup-winning team boasted a top four on defense consisting of 6-foot-3 Alex Pietrangelo, 6-foot-6 Colton Parayko, 6-foot-4 Jay Bouwmeester, and 6-foot-5 Joel Edmundson. See the theme?

Size on the back end was a staple of Treliving-built teams in Calgary, too, and he's beginning to do the same in Toronto. Just look at the defensemen he's acquired since taking over:

Player Acquisition type Height Weight
Cade Webber Trade 6-7 208 lbs
Joel Edmundson Trade 6-5 221 lbs
Ilya Lyubushkin Trade 6-2 200 lbs
Simon Benoit Signing 6-3 203 lbs
John Klingberg Signing 6-3 190 lbs
William Lagesson Signing 6-2 211 lbs
Max Lajoie Signing 6-1 191 lbs
Noah Chadwick Draft 6-4 201 lbs

Treliving also clearly values toughness, based on the signing of Ryan Reaves last offseason. Berube, a former NHL enforcer himself, is as tough as they come, sitting seventh in NHL history with 3,149 penalty minutes.

Synergy between a head coach and a GM is important in any sport, and Treliving and Berube seem to have it - whether you believe in their philosophies or not.

The coaching options outside of Berube weren't the most appealing, either.

The Leafs also reportedly spoke to Todd McLellan and Gerard Gallant about the vacancy. McLellan, a disciple of Mike Babcock whose teams have consistently underachieved in the playoffs, would've been a tough sell to the fan base. Gallant went to both a Stanley Cup Final and an Eastern Conference Final in a four-year span, but he failed to get the most out of the New York Rangers' young players, and the team has thrived since his departure.

Hiring someone without NHL head coaching experience would've been far too risky for Treliving - especially in a market that receives as much attention as Toronto. There was no obvious internal replacement, either.

Berube, for what it's worth, played 40 games with the Leafs in 1991-92. That isn't a game-changer, but it doesn't hurt, either. For a man who wasn't afraid of anyone as a player - even Bob Probert - it's hard to imagine he'd be afraid of the spotlight in Toronto.

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Every coach has their strengths and weaknesses, though. For Berube, he's considered far more of a motivator than a strategist.

"From a technical standpoint, like Xs and Os, we didn't really change a whole lot," Parayko said of when Berube took over in St. Louis, per TSN's Chris Johnston. "He just came in and made sure that we put in the work and worked together. He got everybody to buy into their roles."

Nailing his assistant coach hires will be critical. Special teams were up and down during Berube's six seasons in St. Louis. The power play had some great years, ranking 10th overall during his tenure, while the penalty kill was more inconsistent, ranking 20th.

Incumbent Leafs defensive assistant Mike Van Ryn worked under Berube in St. Louis and could be an option to stay, though he was fired by the Blues in 2023.

Finding a suitable coach to run the power play should be No. 1 on Berube's to-do list. Toronto's power play has consistently gone cold in the postseason, and it reached an all-time low when it went 1-for-21 in Round 1 against the Boston Bruins this year under Guy Boucher's watch.

Fortunately for Berube, he should have unlimited resources available, as the Maple Leafs are the NHL's wealthiest organization. If there's an assistant he covets, money won't be an issue.

It also makes sense that the team with the deepest pockets was able to land Berube, the most coveted coach on the market.

Sometimes a hiring or an acquisition is obvious for a reason - it's the right fit. At the very least, the Leafs' process with this move is sound. But ultimately, Berube will be judged on one thing: playoff success.

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