No doubt there are more than a few Flyers fans watching these Stanley Cup playoffs and wondering about St. Louis Blues coach Craig Berube.
Maybe Berube doesn’t quite qualify for membership in the “Ones that Got Away from the Flyers’’ Club, but he’s close.
After all, the Flyers really didn’t do him justice after hiring him to replace Peter Laviolette as head coach three games into the 2013-14 season.
At the time, the general manager of the team was Paul Holmgren and his ties to Berube went far back to the late 1980s. It was an easy choice for Holmgren to make – both men played NHL hockey with an edge and coached the game in similar fashion, emphasizing commitment and dedication to team.
Berube took the Flyers to the playoffs his first go-around but they ran into a New York Ranger buzzsaw in the opening round. The Rangers, who prevailed in that series, went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final before falling to the Los Angeles Kings.
In the meantime, Ron Hextall was hired as GM and when the Flyers got off to a slow start in the 2014-15 campaign, many figured Berube was under the gun.
They were right. Hextall already had a replacement in mind, namely unproven North Dakota college coach Dave Hakstol.
Berube wanted to stay active in the game, so he scouted for Team Canada and later was hired as coach of the Chicago Wolves, the St. Louis Blues’ AHL affiliate.
After enjoying success there, he was promoted to be Blues’ associate coach under head coach Mike Yeo. When the Blues got off to a horrible start this season, Berube was named interim.
Success didn’t come right away. Six weeks into his new appointment, Berube saw his team drop all the way to last place in the NHL standings on the morning of Jan. 3.
But since then, the Blues have taken off, climbing all the way to a seeded spot in the Western Conference playoff listings and then beating Winnipeg, Dallas and San Jose in the first three rounds.
Now the Blues are just one more series victory away (vs. Boston) from winning the first Cup in the Blues’ 52-year history.
Which points back to our original premise: Did the Flyers pull the plug on Berube too soon?
Many would argue yes, that the Flyers may have put too much of the onus for that unsuccessful 2014-15 season on Berube and not on the players.
Look, Berube didn’t suddenly become a smart coach overnight. He’s using the same principles with the Blues that he employed with the Flyers.
Perhaps the Flyers should have taken a harder look at their roster and their talent level before swinging the ax on Berube, who still maintains a residence in Bucks County.
Since Berube left, not much has changed. The Flyers have made the playoffs only twice in the past four seasons under Hakstol and interim coach Scott Gordon.
Meanwhile, Berube is a finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy (best coach in the NHL) and is certain to have the interim tag removed after the playoffs are over.
From this vantage point, it looks like the Flyers should have seen some of the qualities in Berube which have become quite evident now.
Look at St. Louis’ fourth line, which features Ivan Barbashev, Oskar Sundqvist and Alexander Steen. No surprise Berube is getting the most out of these guys because, in effect, he was a fourth-liner himself most of his career and knows the right mindset for these guys.
Or what about journeyman Pat Maroon, an ex-Flyer prospect, who scored the series-winning goal against Dallas? The image of Maroon (a St. Louis native) skating over to the bench to hug his coach spoke volumes about how much this team is inspired by its bench leader.
All this brings us to new Flyers coach Alain Vigneault, and, by extension, general manager Chuck Fletcher.
As we’ve said before, Vigneault has been to a Cup Final twice (Vancouver, those 2015 Rangers), so there can be no more excuse making.
This time the players will have to show that they have what it takes or Fletcher should do what the Flyers could have done in 2015. . .change the players, not the coach.
>Top free agents
Well, to no one’s surprise, one of the top names in the NHL free agency market, Brock Nelson, chose to re-sign with his old team, the New York Islanders and can be crossed off everyone’s list.
We mention this because it’s no secret the Flyers plan to be somewhat active in the upcoming signing period beginning July 1.
Some of the other names being bandied about: Columbus Blue Jacket forward Artemi Panarin, San Jose Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson, Columbus forward Matt Duchene, Buffalo forward Jeff Skinner, Nashville forward Wayne Simmonds (ex-Flyer), Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (another ex-Flyer), San Jose forward Joe Pavelski, New York Islanders forward Anders Lee and last but not least, Justin Williams.
Our two cents? Go after Duchene and Williams. Two guys with loads of accountability who can still score clutch goals. And if there’s any money left over, bring back Simmonds.