As he closes in on his two-year anniversary as Blues head coach, Craig Berube hasn’t actually coached much hockey lately.
Since the NHL’s original coronavirus “pause” on March 12, the Blues have been active for only five weeks over the last eight months. You know, practices, meetings, games.
That little stretch of play occurred from mid-July to late August when the team held a training camp and then headed to the Edmonton bubble for the completion of the 2019-20 season.
It’s now closing in on three months since their first-round playoff loss there to Vancouver, so Berube is antsy.
“Yeah I am a little bit,” Berube told the Post-Dispatch. “I sure miss it, that’s for sure. Just the daily routine of every day, coming in and being around the guys. I like my job. I like what I do, being around the game.
“When you’re not and it’s taken away from you like it is right now, it’s tough.”
Berube has spent most of the down time with his family back at his permanent residence outside Philadelphia. He was in St. Louis for the draft and the start of free agency in early October, then went back to Pennsylvania where his days — once again — have included cooking breakfast every day for everyone and keeping an eye on the kids during their virtual schooling.
“I monitor things, make sure they’re doing their work and they’re not in their phones,” said Berube, who was scheduled to return to St. Louis this week.
This sounds similar to how Berube spent last spring and early summer — a strange sort of limbo where players and coaches weren’t sure whether the season would be concluded or just canceled.
But this time is different, Berube said.
“This time, I think we all realize we’re gonna play at some point,” he said.
But when? For now, the league is planning a Jan. 1 startup date for the season, a date that seems increasingly unrealistic with each passing day.
“I don’t know if we’ll start Jan. 1 but we could be in training camp at that time.” Berube said.
Berube thinks there will be a Canadian division due to COVID restrictions crossing the U.S. border. (Which will lead to realignment of other divisions.) He also thinks there will be some sort of limited bubble arrangement.
“The Canadian division, because of all the COVID stuff, you’re gonna have to have that,” he said. “And then I do believe there’s gonna be some sort of bubble, just because that’ll be needed. A condensed schedule for sure.
“But I don’t know. I’m sure that the league wants to get as many games in as they can, for money purposes and things like that. But if they want to get a certain amount of games in, that’s where you’re gonna see like (multiple) games being played in a few nights’ time.
“Everybody’s got to give in a little here to make it work. It’s tough for everybody. And it’s tough for the ownership and the league with no fans.”
The assumption is that the NHL will begin the season with no fans in the stands, but it’s possible that could change over the course of the season. The news earlier this week about the development of an effective coronavirus vaccine fuels optimism about the potential return of some fans at some point.
“That’ll make things a lot better for sure because if people have that vaccine, they’re gonna want to go to games because they miss it,” he said. “They miss being out there and watching their teams, cheering and doing all those things.”
As was the case during last spring’s pause, Berube and his coaching staff have stayed in touch with their players via text or old-fashioned phone call.
“We got more guys coming into St. Louis, looking to get on the ice and skate as a team,” Berube said. “I think they feel (the season’s) coming, and they want to be really prepared.
“I know that everybody was really disappointed in the ending last year. We don’t want that happening again. So preparation is huge — we all know that. Being in great shape’s big, and just being ready to go.”
As expected, Berube was disappointed to see defenseman Alex Pietrangelo go to Las Vegas via free agency, but excited over the arrival of Torey Krug from Boston.
“It’s always tough to lose a good player, lose a real good guy, and a captain, a leader,” Berube said. “It’s hard. But in this game, it has always happened. The Great Gretzky got traded. People, they leave. Things happen. That’s the way it goes, and even moreso now with the salary cap and everything.
“But again, you gotta move on. I thought Doug (Armstrong) did a great job of adding to our team with the signing of Krug right away. You know, after losing a real good defenseman we added one.”
Berube said he has spoken with Krug a few times since he was added in free agency, but not in person.
“He’s a guy that can skate and move the puck really well,” Berube said. “If you look at his stats, he’s put up 50 points I don’t know how many times. I mean, he’s produced offensively.
“He’s gonna fit into our style of play, of our ‘D’ getting involved, getting up ice. He ran a great power play in Boston for a number of years. So he does a great job with the power play.
“And he’s a competitive guy. We like competitive people. We like guys that play hard. And he does those things.”
So even without Pietrangelo, Berube sees a lot of options on the blue line.
“I think we’re solid back there,” Berube said. “We got lots of depth is the way I look at it. That’s important. Plus, we got a couple young guys knocking on the door that are pretty close to being full-time players I think.
“We saw (Niko) Mikkola last year come up and do a good job for us. You got Jake Walman. You got (Scott) Perunovich. They want to play and they’re hungry guys.”
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