Is That The Best MLSE Could Do?

TORONTO (May 17) — In the eight days since firing Sheldon Keefe, the Toronto Maple Leafs had every living, breathing human to choose from as a coach that would guide Auston Matthews and William Nylander during their biological primes in the National Hockey League. And, perhaps, top Junior prospect Easton Cowan through his transition to the NHL. Literally… any person alive from any corner of the planet.

They settled on Craig Berube.

With emphasis on settled.

Though it may sound otherwise, I truly mean no disrespect toward Berube or the people that chose him as the 32nd head coach in franchise history. From the moment he pulled on a Philadelphia Flyers jersey late in the 1986–87 season… to lifting the Stanley Cup as bench boss of the 2019 St. Louis Blues, Berube has been hard and rambunctious — the antithesis of the Brendan Shanahan Maple Leafs. Maybe he can somehow light a fuse under Matthews and Nylander when it most matters. Thereby outperforming Mike Babcock and Sheldon Keefe, neither of whom could coerce the big–money boys toward brilliance beyond the regular season. But, let me ask you this: Go back, say, 18 months, to the early part of the 2022–23 NHL schedule. Had someone, then, told you that in the summer of 2024, the general manager/coach “battery” of the Maple Leafs would be Brad Treliving and Craig Berube, how might you have reacted? If bewilderment didn’t overwhelm you, curiosity surely would have.

Maybe even reluctance and disbelief.

Yet, this is the tandem chosen by Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to guide hockey’s most–recognizable and valued franchise through the splintering of the Core–4, as Matthews and Nylander ultimately unseat Mitch Marner and John Tavares. Point being that there was absolutely no rush for MLSE to name a new hockey coach… unless it had eyes for no living, breathing human other than Berube. Which would then beg the question: Is this the indisputable top choice as GM/coach for a company with boundless financial resources… and arguably the most high–profile bench position in all of the sport? I suppose time will tell. But, trust me, if you are feeling underwhelmed tonight as a Maple Leafs fan, you aren’t alone. This isn’t likely to be a turning point in the club’s spotty annals.

As we all know, Joel Quenneville was out there. Still is. The guy with the second–most coaching wins in NHL history. And, three Stanley Cups in six years (2010–15) with the Chicago Blackhawks. Which indicates that MLSE, in the limited span of just more than a week, a) chose to stand clear of any circumstance that involved Quenneville in the distant wake of the Kyle Beach sex assault case… or b) was flatly told by either NHL commissioner Gary Bettman; by Quennenville — or both — to not waste their time. My sense is that MLSE didn’t bother. Or, couldn’t be bothered. Why extend itself rather than reaching into the second level of the recycle bin for Berube?

It’s the Victoria Day long weekend. Time to fully open the cottages and mansions of Collingwood and Muskoka. Who wants to waste time tracking down Bettman in New York to plead for clemency on behalf of Coach Q? Much easier to pick the most–obvious candidate readily available… before the northbound Hwy. 400 gets too crowded. After all, Shanahan did precisely the same last summer with Treliving. Everyone knew Brad was out there. Yet, rival clubs were hardly banging down the door for the ex–Calgary manager. Nonetheless, Shanahan, after surely an exhaustive search, plucked Treliving from the unemployment line. Surprising… absolutely no one.

Again, I want to markedly distinguish between bad choices and easy choices.

As written, only time will determine the efficiency of the Treliving/Berube combo.

It could become a dual act of splendor by MLSE.

Or, get snarled in the profusion of Maple Leaf batteries since 1967.

Is this arrangement, for example, proportionate to Cliff Fletcher and Pat Burns in the early 90’s? Didn’t the Leafs, rather quickly after the death of Harold Ballard, grab the best GM and best coach on the market? Donald Giffin was a go–getter; all–so–briefly, among the most–underrated and distinguished names in franchise history. He went for the best. So, then, did Fletcher. Is Treliving/Berube commensurate to Pat Quinn and… Pat Quinn: the “duo” that led the Leafs to the Stanley Cup semifinals in 2002 (the most–recent such appearance for Toronto)? Is it even on a par with Jim Gregory and Roger Neilson, who guided the Leafs to a gargantuan improvement in 1977–78? Since the advent of the salary cap in 2005–06, we’ve had (take a deep breath) John Ferguson Jr. and Quinn; Ferguson and Paul Maurice; Fletcher (returning) and Maurice; Fletcher and Ron Wilson; Brian Burke and Wilson; Burke and Randy Carlyle; David Nonis and Carlyle; Nonis and Peter Horachek; Nonis and Babcock; Mark Hunter (briefly) and Babcock; Lou Lamoriello and Babcock; Dubas and Babcock; Dubas and Keefe; Treliving and Keefe (whew!). Treliving/Berube gets kind of shrouded in all of that. It clearly doesn’t stand out. Not now, anyway.

What it allows, as mentioned, is for the uppity–ups at MLSE to start enjoying their summers. All the heavy lifting is done. Marner will not be offered a contract extension on July 1, the earliest–such date, or anytime likely thereafter. Yeah, there’s a No. 1 goalie to be found, yet again, unless you believe “China Doll” Woll can carry the load. Trying, somehow, to develop or acquire a Norris Trophy threat? Ahhh. It can wait another year. Or, two. That’s for hockey markets that demand more than the bare minimum. As for this region? It gets quite cluttered on Friday evenings around Barrie and the Hwy. 400/11 extension. No one wants to be in the office longer than necessary.


Adding color to this blog about the largely colorless Leafs, here are covers of Hockey World magazine in my collection between February 1969 and March 1970.

Do you remember the names? The uniforms?

Seems like a million years ago.


20 comments on “Is That The Best MLSE Could Do?

  1. Howard, I am a firm believer in Second Chances but in no world can a Coach who covered up and did not take action against a sexual assault be ever allowed to coach again in the NHL or anywhere else, I loved Joel Quenneville when he was drafted by the Leafs and was upset that he was traded to Colorado in the Lanny McDonald trade, over the years from being Marc Crawford’s assistant in St John’s to everything else, thought he was an excellent Coach but you can’t allow or even want him back in the NHL, no championships is ever worth doing what he turned a blind eye to

  2. I believe Joel Q was not approached and it had nothing to do with obtaining permission from Gary Batman to return to the league. I think those permissions would not be a hurdle to overcome. This was a MLSE call.

  3. I for one, am perplexed about the Berube trade. Toronto needs a Norris-caliber defenseman and a system for playing winning hockey. Instead, they got a guy who I recall advanced the puck with his feet against the boards and launched grenades at his players during press conferences.
    The Blues won a cup largely because Pietrangelo developed into a Norris trophy defenseman, not because of Berube’s spectacular coaching. (I think) I recall a post you wrote in 2018-2019 suggesting that Toronto trade for Pietrangelo when the Blues were dead last…..At the time I thought Pietrangelo was average….but since then he’s won the cup with 2 different teams. (What do I know)
    Detroit dominated when Shanny played for them due to Yzerman playing defensive hockey instead of scoring 60+ goals a year, and Nicklas Lidstrom. Perhaps Berube can convince Matthews to take his foot off the gas to help keep the puck out of his own net? They’ll still need to flip someone for a defenseman. Getting out of Tavares’s contract seems to make the most sense. If MLSE were to take the blame on Tavares’s tax snafu and cover it, would it induce Tavares to waive his no-trade clause? Would Tavares’s 900,000 salary, 11 million in cap hit, plus a hot prospect (Easton Cowan) be enough powder to pull off the greatest trade in MLSE history for a defenseman? Got any ideas who they could trade for?

    1. Regardless of Berube’s potential as a coach the leaf’s need to stop the insanity of compounding EVERY roster mistake they’ve made by trying to buy/trade their way out of them.
      They’re in this cap mess not only because they doled out $11 million contracts and no move clauses like wet naps at a 3 year olds birthday party, but also because they constantly trade 1st & 2nd round picks that can turn into usable, cost controlled players. A drafted defenceman bigger than the aforementioned 3 year olds would be nice too.
      They need to let Tavares play out his last year. His presence or absence will have the same effect on their winning the Stanley Cup in 2025 – that being ZERO.

  4. Howard, as much as I respect you, I don’t know why you have this man crush on Quenneville. Sure, if it weren’t for that pesky Kyle Beach sex assault case, I’d want to hire him but I don’t see how anyone can overlook it. No coming back from that. Yeah, Quenneville didn’t assault Beach but he sure covered it up pretty well. Good riddance to coach Q,

  5. Howard, your point is well taken, however I am going to state something mentioned on The FAN-590. It was with Jeff Marek’s lunchtime 12-2 slot. It was stated that Quenneville will not be allowed under any circumstances, to come in as a coach at this time. He will be allowed to consider coming back in behind the scenes on the some level, which was in question as to what that could / would be when the time comes. He will not be allowed to continue coaching at this time, so he was dismissed as an option. I completely agree with you, but this segment answered my question. Just as an fyi to your article. You may want to consider looking into that to confirm but that is what was said.

  6. My sense is that Matthews will not want to play for the old world coach Berube, much as he did not like playing for Babcock. In the latter’s case Babcock lost out. In the Berube case Matthews may ask for a trade to a team coached by a more genteel, but also more effective coach than Keefe. I can see Jon Cooper filling that role for AM, and Tampa Bay isn’t a bad destination either. For a reasonable pay cut, Matthews might take such a deal.

  7. Well I’ll be the first to say that Marner’s not going anywhere until his contract is done and Leaf’s fan’s can sit back and watch a 90 point player that plays on the pp and pk just walk out the door without any return. That’s how Marner will get the last laugh knowing that the Leaf’s get nothing in return for his departure. Then let the team’s lineup for his services and there will be many team’s trying to land Magical Mitch Marner and his point a game output. This will end up being even worse than the Raycroft and Rask transaction that left Leaf fan’s regretting that deal for many years and this with Marner is even worse since the Leaf’s will watch one of the top right wingers in the league just walk, no return and they’ll never replace this guy what a huge mistake on the part of this organization if they let this happen. Rielly,Nylander and JT don’t bring as much to this team than what Marner brings. If Tre was looking out for what’s best for this group it wouldn’t be moving Marner Tre would be moving out the likes of Rielly and Nylander if they were going to move anyone at all. Two player’s that Tre could or should be moving is Kampf and Jankrok, give Kyle a call. Just a thought, you know it’s just to bad that Tre couldn’t have traded Sheldon for Sully tell me that he wouldn’t be a good fit for this group. Cheerz ?

    1. The mistake was not trading Marner last year before his NMC kicked in. However losing him allows the Leafs to better spend $11 million (or more if he expects a raise). So yes losing him for nothing is not ideal but better than retaining him at his current salary.

      Good riddance.

  8. In answer to your question Howard – yes it is. Not because it’s the “best” or final answer to the question, but because it’s the most expeditious and most available.
    Berube may be a great coach in the making, and I’m cheering for him because of how he managed to create a career in a very different era but I STILL believe that Mathews, Nylander and Marner are collectively the barrier to playoff success. I don’t mean just the money allocated but the attitudes and apparently fragile egos. I read somewhere that a former member of the team called the leadership group “immature” and you can see that when none of them take responsibility after poor performances.
    Marner’s contract situation/demands, petulance and playoff performances have made him the easy target this off season but in spite of 69 goals scored (mostly in bunches against inferior teams) I don’t see Mathews or Nylander as much better when the game matters most.
    It will be interesting to see which one will start sulking first at being called out for indifferent play. I also expect all 3 will be in the lineup on opening night, for better or (most likely) worse.

  9. We are aligned. Have written about Quenneville coming to the leafs for the past 3 years. No question he is the best out there. Further wrote to go get Cassidy the millisecond the Bruins released him 2 yeras ago. Again both these decisions would be with some concern but no coach comes in perfect.

    If Ciach Q wasnt on the docket, then perhaps you wait to see if Sullivan becomes free in Pittsburgh. Ditto with BrindAmour in Carolina. I like Berube but do think the leafs took the path of least resistance. Time could have been on their side as they were setting the coaching marking. All other teams were waiting for the 1st domino to fall. Now the others will quickly follow suit.

    1. Turns out Brind A’mour re-signed. Quennville apparently cannot coach in the NHL. The Leafs weren’t looking for a new coach 2 years ago unfortunately and Cassidy’s busy since 2022 with the Knights. So, that leaves getting Berube or passign him up and hoping for someone else better in the weeks to months ahead.

  10. Berube is the best candidate available. So, it is a good hiring. Leafs will be a different club under him. More defensive. Tavares and Rielly declined a lot under Keefe. Hopefully Berube can restore their effectiveness. Brad Treliving now needs to make some good decisions regarding the player roster.

    1. The leafs have let us down once again. This will be my last year following the leafs. Brendan SUCKAHAN needs to be fired immediately but this is all about share holders and revenues. The decision makers don’t care about winning. Never have.

  11. The Leafs should have cleaned their smelly closet from the top down. Don’t they know when you clean from the bottom up, the dirt rises to the top again and again and… we know the rest. The fans ought to be outraged! I know I am.

  12. I could not agree more. The way Treliving slipped that comment in during the presser about also needing to recognize some urgency competing with other teams for available coaching talent just
    signalled the way this was going to unfold. The fix was in before they even let Sheldon go. Everything else was just window dressing.
    Bettman needs to stop clutching his pearls so tight. He has never had any problem getting into bed with all manner of colorful financial conmen to whom he granted franchises to. To not even ask or push to interview Quennville was just lazy and perhaps kowtowing to the progressive crowd here in the city. If so then the real lack of toughness clearly starts in the upper echelons of management, not along the boards.
    I wish the Treliving /Berube the best and hope they succeed for the fans sake. But for a lot of us older fans this generation of the team is our last chance to see the Cup back in Toronto. Knowing or even suspecting that an exhaustive process wasn’t conducted is disheartening.

  13. Since Shanahan allowed himself to be pressured by Kyle Dubas rather than lose him, this regime has done nothing but pick the low hanging fruit. From players signed in free agency, drafts signed to 3 year entry level NHL deals, and trades dispensing with draft capital, they have virtually spent their way into this mess. Just look at the shape of their AHL operation. A collective salary of many times what other teams pay their AHL players and hardly a legitimate prospect in the bunch. The NHL team is even worse. Then Shanahan got played by Dubas a second time, fired him in a fit of rage, and picked Treliving because he was out of time. Is it any surprise that he/they skimped on their due diligence in this case. Signing Berube is a sure sign that they will do very little to break this team up this year and will roll the dice yet again with the majority of this group. Hiring a former enforcer to magically snap these egos into place is delusional and just plain stubborn old school thinking. This will not end well. Keith Pelley has already lost my respect and MLSE will never change as long as Bell and Rogers are involved. Leaf fans deserved to be outraged.

    1. No disrespect intended but I believe most of what you’ve said here is incorrect. Babcock and Lamoreillo were not low hanging fruit. Getting a guy with NO NHL management experience to be the President was a huge mistake. People with no experience tend to assume no experience is needed which is why NHL GM Dubas and coach Keefe were hired and why they hired who they did (also with little experience)! Lots of teams sign players in free agency because nothing is lost, especially if the contract is decent to good. Teams draft in the hopes that the player gets to the point of signing a 3 year deal so nothing strange there. Robertson, McMann, Holmberg, Liljegren, Lajoie, Lagesson, Woll come from the AHL system. Woll, Robertson, Holmberg, McMann just came up from there this year. Hardly a legitimate prospect?! New school with Dubas and Keefe sure hasn’t worked so what would you suggest? More new school?! It’s extremely early to be assuming there won’t be some big player changes this summer.

      1. Wow. Did you actully read what I wrote? Your first 7 lines spoke about a time before my comment even began and is therefore entirely irrelevant. It started when Shanahan gave in to Dubas the first time, gave him the reins and let him slowly eliminate everything that transpired before. The point about the AHL operation is that is littered with tweeners, retreads and drafts that have yet to show that they are even capable of growing into a legitimate NHL Player. In baseball terms, we are talking about 4A players. In the meantime every salary on their books is at least NHL minimum or above and every new person seems to get a multi year deal, even when they come in a trade. I haven’t checked in a while but I believe capfriendly once stated that the average AHL salary is in the $57,000 range. Now check out the Marlies payroll! Ther is no comparison. Ss for players, Woll is the exception to the rule as he was developed here. If he can get healthy and stay that way than he has a future here. I wish McMann luck but he’s hardly a prospect at 27 years old and already picked from another team that gave up on him. Lily has been carried for years simply because he’s a right handed ‘d’ man but lets face it , hes a dud. I won’t analyse every name you mentioned but at least 2 or 3 were 27 to 30 year olds cut from othe teams and are in no way prospects. The point is, all this regime has done is throw money at people and dump the excess in the AHL. Anybody can do that! I could go on an on but this is tiresome. As for my last point on Berube, once again he was the easy choice and I’ll bet they signed him to a whopping contract. If they are signing him its because Treliving, who’s very old school, believes that a sterner voice is gonna shake the tree that is the powder puff core of this group. I’m wagering that very little of substance will happen this year as they hope to catch lightning in a bottle rather than make the tough decisions that need to be made to weed out the bad seeds and restore a firmer footing to this crumbling hockey franchise.

  14. Well Howard you are probably right as usual, but I think we should wait and see how the Leafs play under Berube. So I have no expectations on how he will do but I saw a youtube video comparing Berube and Keefe pumping up their teams before a playoff game. Keefe was relaxed and calmly telling the boys to go out there and have fun enjoying the experience of playoff hockey. Berube was screaming his head off swearing away about what they had to do. So a totally different approach and it seemed to me like Berube wanted results and expected his players to give everything they had to win and the players knew it. So maybe the Leaf players thought they were just out there to have some fun?

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