Is Craig Berube a Good Head Coaching Option for the New Jersey Devils?

The New Jersey Devils and Tom Fitzgerald must leave no stone unturned during his head coaching search. One of those stones may end up being former St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube. The question is; would he be the right man for the job.
St. Louis Blues v Vancouver Canucks
St. Louis Blues v Vancouver Canucks / Derek Cain/GettyImages

As another disappointing season crawls to a close, all eyes have shifted to the offseason. The Devils were just about taken out of the playoff race with a loss to the Buffalo Sabres, then subsequently kicked further into the dirt by the Pittsburgh Penguins. The loss to the New York Rangers on Wednesday night was just the nail in the coffin.

A few things have been made abundantly clear this season, as well as in recent weeks. The first being that Lindy Ruff was never the man for the job, and unfortunately, that took about a month too long to figure out. However, most recently it's become clear that interim coach Travis Green isn't the answer at all. Is time as Devil coach can easily be summed up by goaltending saving him.

Since neither coach was the answer the biggest question entering the offseason will be, who is? It's the one question that GM Tom Fitzgerald CANNOT get wrong. If he flubs the next coaching hire it won't be long until his seat begins to get hot.

Despite all of that and all of the Devils troubles, their head coaching vacancy should be one of the most sought-after jobs this hiring cycle. That then leads to the question of who should the next head coach of the New Jersey Devils be. We've highlighted a few options in the past, but in light of recent reports and quotes from Fitzgerald himself, the path may lead to one man; former St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube.

This shouldn't come as much of a surprise when you do a little bit of digging. Fitzgerald talked to Pierre LeBrun in a recent article for The Athletic and talked about how he wants this team to play differently.

""I wanted to see us become that type of team: be more mature with the puck, getting pucks in deep, clock management — just certain things. We kept shooting ourselves in the foot. I just wanted to see some habits that could change... We’ve got a lot of skill,” he said. “We really do. I’d like to get a little harder.”"

Tom Fitzgerald via The Athletic

That last sentence is what stands out the most. He continued to go on about playing harder on the wings and being a team that's not afraid to play physically. A lack of physical play has not been the sole reason why the Devils are losing games, but it is jarring to see how scared of contact they can be at times.

The mantra of "playing harder" all comes back to the head coaching, and Craig Berube in particular. His story of taking the Blues from the bottom of the standings to Stanley Cup champions back in 2019 has been well documented. But the biggest take away is how he managed to do so, as well as how the Blues played in subsequent seasons.

When Berube took over the head coaching job he took a very skilled, yet underperforming Blues team and flipped their game 180 degrees. They played with an unrelenting forecheck and physicality in all three zones.

In the first two seasons before the Covid lockdown, the Berube Blues were in thetop five for goals against at 5v5 and finished in the top half of the league in goals for at 5v5. They were by no means a shutdown defensive team or had a high octane offense, but they consistently produced and outworked teams on a nightly basis.

The Blues themselves made the postseason all but once under Berube during his tenure, and while they had limited success after the Cup run, there's something to be said about the importance of making it year after year. The Devils have made the playoffs twice in the past decade before missing the following year. Step one has to be getting into the last 16 consistently.

What Berube would bring, which is what this team has lacked and what Fitzgerald is desperate for, is a willingness to play hard. Those Blues teams were filled with offensive talents like Ryan O'Reilly, Jaden Schwartz, and Vladimir Tarasenko, yet he still got them to buy in to play a physical, hard, 200-foot game.

The Devils have players in place like Nico Hischier, Timo Meier, and Dawson Mercer who are capable of playing that way. So if Berube can get is more skilled forwards like Jack Hughes and Jesper Bratt to buy in, then they should have no problem playing with a playoff-like intensity over the course of 82 games.

That being said, Berube has his flaws. As mentioned before, his teams have never been elite offensively or defensively, nor have they ever had great special teams. There's also the question of what type of coach he is once his message gets stale. We saw this year that he had trouble getting through to the younger Blues players like Jordan Kyrou, which caused a lot of friction. The Devils have a young superstar of their own in Jack Hughes, so it would be interesting to see if he's learned how to deal with young players better.

In the end, Fitzgerald needs to leave no stone unturned in his coaching search. Berube will likely get an interview, and despite having a solid resume, an expansive search is necessary to find the right fit. This will undoubtedly be the most important decision this organization has had to make in a while, but if Berube is the man for the job he may end up being a good fit.