Craig Berube introduced as Maple Leafs head coach
Photo: Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports

After his introductory press conference as the Maple Leafs’ new head coach, Craig Berube joined TSN Overdrive and Real Kyper & Bourne to discuss his new team, coaching philosophies, and first priorities this offseason.

How is the overall vibe for you? Since Friday, it sounds like you have been rather busy.

Berube: It has been great. You are obviously busy with people, phone calls, and your family. I came out to Toronto, and it has been great — the organization is first-class, as you guys know.

I have been really getting the lay of the land and meeting a lot of new faces. It has been really good. I am loving every minute of it.

How buttoned down was the process of closing the deal in Toronto? Did you have to get to Toronto on the down low? How secretive was the whole process?

Berube: Not really. I jumped on a flight and cruised in here with my tracksuit on. I rolled into a car and went to the hotel.

Was the Toronto job the one you always had your eye on as the one you wanted?

Berube: As I said, you don’t know what you are going to get. There are jobs out there that would be great jobs, and this is obviously one of them. Again, working for the Toronto Maple Leafs — the history, the Original Six, working up in Canada in this environment — is very appealing.

Talking with Brad and Brendan Shanahan, we are all on the same page on what we believe in. I look at the roster, and I am like, “This is a really good hockey team.”

I am excited. I am ready to get going.

As you get into the hockey side of things, how will you evaluate last year’s Leafs and decide what changes to make for next season? 

Berube: Those are conversations I am going to have with Brad going forward about the team and some of the changes they made last year and even toward the end of the year going into the playoffs. We will get that all settled in and figure things out. It is the same with the coaching staff. We will go from there.

I have already reached out to a lot of the players. I think it is important to get the relationships going and get to know these guys. I met a few at the rink today. Things like that are really important.

Have you had extensive conversations with Brad Treliving about how the roster is going to be constructed and what you like on your teams? 

Berube: Not a ton. We are taking it step by step here. It is two days on the job. A lot of stuff we are taking care of and working towards. We are definitely going to have conversations coming up about it.

In a busy offseason, do you plan on being involved in player personnel decisions? As a coach, do you work with what is given to you?

Berube: I was just talking with Brad. We are both going to talk and be involved in these situations, but in the end, he is the GM, and I am the coach. His management team will make decisions. So far, talking with Brad, he has asked me about things. I would guess it will continue to work that way.

Are you going to start immediately working on filling out the coaching staff?

Berube: Brad and I are going to sit down and talk about all of this stuff going forward. It is definitely high on the list. We have to get that situated and get the right people in here. Whether it is the people who were here already, we are not sure. It is a process we have to go through and make sure we get it right.

We can only assume Mitch Marner was among the players you’ve talked to. What was the vibe when you talked to a player of his stature with his future up in the air?

Berube: It was great. Very positive. He was really excited. I am really excited. All of that stuff will be evaluated with Brad. We will go forward from there.

The conversation was great with him. He is a great player. We all know that. As I said, it was very positive on both sides.

The start of the regular season has been a little slow for Toronto in the last several years. They typically finish second or third in the division and don’t draw a favourable first-round matchup. How early is too early to hold players accountable and lean on them, putting the pressure on them to recognize the regular season really matters?

Berube: They know the regular season matters. We all know that. You always want to get off to a good start. That is important. I think it starts in the summertime with your training and all of the things you have to do to get prepared and have a really good camp. That is the plan now: have a really good, hard camp to get ready for the start of the season.

How we run camp and our practices — the practices are the most important thing, not the exhibition games. We want to practice how we are going to play. We want to be really dialed in and predictable with structure and how we are going to play. That is going to be a big part of getting off to a good start.

There was a big story later in the season with Auston Matthews’ chase for 70 goals. What are your overall thoughts on load management and relying on two or three of the core players all season long? How much do you lean on your top players from the beginning to the end of a regular season?

Berube: It is a good question. I talked a little bit about it today. It is all about the team for me. Every player is important, and he has to have a role. It is important for me as a coach to use all of these guys and manage minutes and ice time. You are going to have to use your top guys more at times in games when you are down and in certain situations like that.

It is all a little bit of a hypothetical right now. It is game to game. Again, I want to use everybody on the team. I believe that if you want to get something done in the end, you need everybody. Everyone has to feel important. Everyone has to have a role.

Kyle Dubas was big into analytics while he was in charge. There is a big R&D staff and a lot of staff in general. How do you plan on approaching access to a firehose of information?

Berube: Analytics have been around for quite some time now. We all use them. They are all useful tools.

Every coach is different about what he wants to use. You get loads of information. As a head coach and a coaching staff, you go through it and figure out what you think is more important. I have my own stuff that I like to use.

Again, it is all good information. I don’t think you can ever throw information out and not look at it. It is important you look at it and use what you want to use. In the end, I am a gut guy. I go a lot off of feel and what I see as a coach.

The special teams have often been ugly for the Leafs for the last several years in the playoffs. How heavily involved are you in the power play? How much will you rely on whoever is there for you on the staff?

Berube: The way I work on the coaching staff is that we are all involved in all of these situations. That is what I believe is the most important thing. I am sure one guy’s area is the power play or penalty kill — and they are heavily involved in that area — but I am involved, and other coaches are involved.

I think opinions are good. That is how I work through these things. The penalty kill guy might have some good opinions on the power play. He is running the PK and knows what PKers are doing. We all work together on all of these things and come up with the best plan.

What does leadership mean to you on an NHL team?

Berube: First of all, all good leaders are good teammates. Leadership is not just leading by example on the ice but taking care of your teammates, helping them in tough situations, and holding them accountable at times. You take care of your teammates and look after your teammates. That is really important. That is what I think leadership is.

There has been a lot of talk about accountability in this market. As the head coach, what is the day-one conversation between Craig Berube and his players about what you are looking for and what you expect the players to bring to the table?

Berube: I talked about it today. It is team first here. What is most important is what’s best for the team. We expect our players to do their job. What is your job? Do your job. That is what we expect. You have to make sacrifices for the team.

We want to have a team-first mindset. You have to make sacrifices at times. Again, as I talked about today, everybody is important, and everyone is going to have a role on the team. Everyone is going to be used.

Is an accountable partnership about a two-way street between the players and the coaches?

Berube: My door is open to all the players. They are going to know that. I have had players in the past come in and talk to me about situations. There could be numerous things. We work together.

In my opinion, that is how it works best. As a coach, I want to be challenged. If my players have things to challenge me about, they should.

Are you the type of coach who will get on a plane to visit your top players and try to foster the relationship away from the rink? 

Berube: That is definitely a good question. It is something I want to do. I want to arrange some time to see some players, meet them, and talk to them. I met some guys today, which was great, but I always like in-person conversations and face-to-face conversations.

I reached out to a lot of these guys on the phone already and through text. Down the road, we want to get together.

You mentioned north-south hockey today. This team has been a possession team for many years. How does that change? Every coach, regardless of your philosophy, wants to get and keep the puck. But is north-south about a more direct route to the puck and keeping it once you get it?

Berube: 100%. When I talk north-south, I talk about predictable hockey. It starts in your own zone on breakouts. When people are in position, you have outs, and you make the play. Let’s go north with it with area plays.

In St. Louis, we were one of the highest puck-possession teams in the league. We were a great forechecking team. You have to possess the puck in different ways. It can’t all be off the rush. If you watch the playoffs and how tight it is, there is no room. You have to put pucks deep and go get them. If you forecheck to get the puck back, that is puck possession.

How do you approach the tough playoff history with this team among the players who will still be here? How do you approach the topic and prepare for the next time you are in the playoffs?

Berube: I don’t think we want to look back on that. To be honest with you, that was in the past. I wasn’t here. I want my players to focus on the process of getting there. That starts in the summertime, through camp, and then into the regular season.

They are going to hear a lot from me about the process, staying with the process, and focusing on that. When playoffs come around, we will deal with the playoffs. It is a long year. There is a lot of work to put in. I will say it again: We will just focus on the process.

In the press conference, you mentioned toughness, the game changing, and it not just being about dropping the gloves or putting someone through the boards. It is not the same as when you were playing, but you still expect competitiveness nightly. 

Berube: 100%. Competing and playing hard is a must. That is a non-negotiable. Toughness is not the fighting side of things. It is puck battles, taking hits to make plays, blocking shots, and all of that kind of stuff. Sometimes, guys drop the gloves — it is still part of the game, even if it’s not as frequent anymore — but I want our players to be tough in those other areas. Mental toughness is an important thing that good teams have. That’s what we want to get to.

How quickly are you going to get sick of the media environment?

Berube: It is part of the game. Yeah, there is more in Toronto, and rightfully so. It is the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is part of the job.  I understood that coming in here and signing with Toronto. That is part of my job.

If Brendan Shanahan comes into your coach’s office with ideas on what to do or say, do you show him the video of you kicking his ass?

Berube: I don’t know if I kicked his ass [laughs]. He has a lot more goals than I ever scored.

Have you ever had a press conference sitting beside a guy you fought multiple times in your career?

Berube: I think that might have been the first one. I am not sure.

The Devils and Flyers had a lot of battles in those days. Both teams were physical and tough. I would change places with him to score as many goals as he scored.