Craig Berube

PRAGUE, Czechia – John Tavares is playing for Canada in the World Championships, but when he woke up on Saturday, he had a message from the coach of his other team. 

In fact, it was from Craig Berube, who was hired as coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday, replacing Sheldon Keefe, who was fired May 9. 

"I don't know him at all, just connected with him via text early this morning. It's what I woke up to," Tavares said Saturday from Prague, where he is the captain of Canada. "Obviously very difficult to see 'Keefer' go, but part of the game at times, and for us as players, it's on us to do a better job. With Craig coming in, he's going to help us with that.

"I'm excited to work with him. He's got a tremendous pedigree. [General manager Brad Treliving] sent a quick note out to myself as well, just about the excitement of bringing him in and how he can help our group. That process has already begun and we're looking forward to having him."

It was two weeks ago Saturday when the Maple Leafs lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round to the Boston Bruins, another season ending too soon. 

They have advanced beyond the opening round of the playoffs once in the past 20 years, and haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967.

Tavares believes Berube, who led the St. Louis Blues to the Stanley Cup in 2019, can help the Maple Leafs get over the hump. 

"As time goes on and Craig comes in the page turns and we're looking forward to what he brings and how he can help us get to where we want to get to and that's obviously reaching the ultimate goal," Tavares said. "It's what our expectations are and what we want to deliver."

It will be the third head coaching job for Berube in the NHL.

The 58-year-old is 281-190-72 in 543 regular-season games with the Philadelphia Flyers and Blues. He has coached 58 games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including the Cup run in 2019, which happened after he replaced Mike Yeo as coach Nov. 20, 2018. He was fired as the Blues coach on Dec. 14, 2023. 

Berube also played in 1,054 regular-season games over parts of 17 seasons in the NHL with the Flyers, Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames, Washington Capitals and New York Islanders from 1986-2003, recording 159 points (61 goals, 98 assists) and 3,149 penalty minutes.

"He's a great presence and a great person," said Blues goalie Jordan Binnington, a member of the 2019 Cup team. "He's a guy who cares. They should be excited. We all love him, and it was tough to see him go at the time. Things work out in their own way. We wish each other all the best, for sure."

Tavares, Toronto's captain since 2018, said at some point he will lean on Binnington and fellow Canada teammate, defenseman Colton Parayko, for a scouting report on Berube.

"I'm trying to just focus on this tournament at the moment, but I'm sure the odd discussion might happen," Tavares said. "Obviously they had a tremendous amount of success with him, and even before he was hired there were a lot of rumors and they mentioned how much they enjoyed playing for him and the good things that he does.

"Excited to be coached by him and to learn and get better and for me to grow and how he's going to help our team get to where we want to get to."

Keefe, in his first NHL coaching job, guided the Maple Leafs to a 212-97-40 regular-season record in five seasons after replacing Mike Babcock on Nov. 20, 2019. That includes a 46-26-10 record for 102 points and a third-place finish in the Atlantic Division this season.

But under him, the Maple Leafs were 16-21 in the postseason and had just one series win in six attempts.

Tavares wasn't able to talk to Keefe before leaving for the World Championship but did reach out before taking off to Czechia.

"It's still really difficult, I think," Tavares said. "He'd been around five years with the team. Everything we've been through and certainly from a personal note how he's helped my game grow and how he's challenged me, I think back and forth you develop a lot of trust and respect.

"As a player, you wear that, you feel that. That's a wound that you take."

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