NHL coaches come and go so often, teams should keep a UPS truck parked outside the arena, waiting to haul the discarded gaffer to the recycling plant.

There’s an old saying: coaches are hired to be fired. In the NHL, coaches are fired so they can be fired again at their next gig. In this rental-coach industry, it’s always easy for the front office to find a new suit and jawline to position behind the bench.

The Blues sacked coach Craig Berube after Tuesday’s repulsive 6-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at Enterprise Center. Blues president of hockey operations Doug Armstrong evidently got tired of watching his mediocre and dysfunctional roster play mediocre and dysfunctional hockey.

It’s always funny to me when NBA players get demonized by traditional media for their skill at getting their coach fired. But the NBA dudes are kittens compared to the carnivores in NHL dressing rooms. Scheming NHL players overthrow more leaders than rebellious factions in a third-world nation.

Quitting on Berube was laughably predictable. What took so long? He made it to a sixth season, and that’s something he can be proud of. As an added bonus, the Blues must pay Berube through the end of next season.

Scapegoating coaches is a cherished Blues tradition, and the franchise has run off multiple Hall of Fame coaches through the decades. Their current mix of celebrities-personalities has successfully eliminated the only coach to win a Stanley Cup in franchise history.

Generations of Blues players have known how to liquidate coaches who are mean to them, push them, and bore them. Hockey players are rock stars now. They do not have time to be challenged by a coach when there are expensive wardrobes to update and appointments at the salon for touch-ups on their latest hipster hairstyle. It’s all about the glam; to hell with the grit.

Berube had to go for this and several other reasons. Once the players emotionally withdraw and shut down the coach, the end is coming … it’s just a matter of counting the days. Berube is a hardcore, old-school coach who wants the game played with a steadfast, disciplined approach. He’s very particular about that, and a half-hearted effort is fatal to the cause.

Berube Hockey requires intense work, unwavering commitment, and a selfless attitude. These bedrock principles led to a remarkable run to the Stanley Cup but are difficult to sustain. And the Blues – a powerful 5-on-5 team when at their best – went astray and lapsed into indifference and freelancing. Berube didn’t help with his stubborn preferences for defensemen; he wasn’t keen on mobile, more skilled but less physical skaters Jake Walman and Vince Dunn. They’ve thrived for their new teams. Defenseman Scott Perunovich had to wait … and wait … and wait to get a chance to play. Assets can’t be wasted.

Except for save percentage the Blues rank 25th or worse among NHL teams since the start of last season in just about everything that matters: points percentage, power-play success, penalty-kill percentage, and the share of even-strength goals, shot attempts, shots on goal, scoring chances, high-danger opportunities, and expected goals.

Berube was set in his ways … and his workforce went another way. At least a new coach – when a full-time replacement for Berube is recruited – will give the boys something fresh and new with his ideas, messaging and leadership techniques.

There was a lot more to this change than the usual coach-player relations. Above the usual politics at the locker-room level, Berube’s firing was a direct indictment of an organization that failed to follow up on one of the greatest accomplishments in St. Louis sports history. Coaches don’t last forever, but the glory of winning the Stanley Cup is eternal. And those emotions and memories can’t ever be erased.

It’s a shame that the Blues couldn’t build on 2019’s once-in-a-lifetime precious gift to their loyal fans. Since capturing the Stanley Cup the Blues have won just a single playoff series and are 8-17 in the postseason. They failed to qualify for the 2023 playoffs and were trending to miss out again this season.

And while there are those who want us to believe that Berube was an innocent, sacrificial victim here – well, sorry, but it isn’t that simple.  As I alluded to a few paragraphs ago, when a coach loses the room then he’s destined to lose his job. But if you’re asking me to allocate the blame, OK.

First of all, this isn’t an either/or choice.

It isn’t a matter of choosing “A” for Armstrong or “B” for Berube.

It can be both things.

Accordingly, here’s the blame-list rankings:

1. Hockey Potentate Doug Armstrong. This franchise took a terrible wrong turn by letting defenseman and team captain Alex Pietrangelo walk as a free agent to Vegas after the 2019-2020 season. Since Pietrangelo’s exit the Blues are 17th in the NHL in wins, 19th in points, and 15th with six postseason victories. To prepare and compensate for Pietranagelo’s departure, Armstrong has spent a small fortune in assembling a defensive unit that continues to be a liability. Armstrong dished out long-term contracts and no-trade clauses to a group of defensemen who are an onerous burden on the payroll and a detriment in the critical area of goal prevention.

“I feel personally responsible for the situation that we’re in,” Armstrong told the media on Wednesday.

Army should feel that way.

Since the start of last season the Blues rank 27th among the 32 teams in their yield of 3.52 goals per 60 minutes. Last season the Blues ranked second in the NHL in most payroll dollars invested in defensemen. This season, they’re third, spending more on defensemen than 29 other teams. It’s difficult to divest of their large contracts/salaries. Other NHL front offices aren’t stupid – they don’t want to pay for the Blues’ financial miscalculations – so Armstrong must live with the consequences.

In March of 2021, Armstrong’s decision to give goaltender Jordan Binnington a six-year contract for $36 million is a mixed-results investment so far. Another potential salary liability is center and team captain Brayden Schenn. Already 32 years old, he has an annual average salary-cap hit of $6.5 million through 2028.

2. Chairman & Governor Tom Stillman. He deserves respect and admiration for his strong commitment to give the fans a successful and entertaining product. But the Chairman Tom also stands with Armstrong, and that’s increasingly problematic. The Blues won’t commit to a serious rebuild. OK, yes, I get why they’re trying to straddle the line. Stillman wants to provide a competitive, and winning, team while retooling. I don’t think their fans will be happy with a lengthy state of mediocrity as the franchise tries to sort of rebuild without really rebuilding. It’s a complicated and precarious situation.

3. The Drifting Cast Of Free-Will Players. In addition to what I’ve already written, let’s add this: Jordan Kyrou. Armstrong signed the enigmatic forward to an eight-year, $65 million contract that kicked in this season. Kyrou, 25, is tied for 193rd among NHL players this season with five goals. And his glaring lapses in competitiveness and hockey sense are hard to accept or understand.

4. Newly Martyred Coach Craig Berube. Hey, it’s nothing embarrassing about being the newest member in the Ex-Blues Coach Club with Scotty Bowman, the late Al Arbour, Jacques Demers, Brian Sutter, Joel Quenneville and Ken Hitchcock. And Berube has the bragging rights; none of the other legends coached the Blues to a Stanley Cup triumph. Berube’s legacy is secure.

Defective roster construction was the predominant factor in the Blues’ decline. But they aren’t stripped of talent offensively. They’re capable of playing better, and it’s up to the coach to maximize the roster he’s been handed. Fairly or unfairly, it’s up to the coach to get the players to perform. The Blues have some exciting young forwards in development, and the next full-time coach must be adept at leading them to NHL success. The trajectory of the next generation is crucial.

This season the Blues have scored only seven power-play goals. Astoundingly they have more goals (8) when their opponent is on the power play. That’s preposterous. But it fits. The Blues rank 26th in the NHL this season with an average of 2.80 goals per 60 minutes.

Berube couldn’t make a breakthrough with the blatantly underachieving Kyrou. Of course, that could have a helluva lot more to do with Kyrou than the coach. Good luck to those who will be asked to take over the babysitting job.

As Berube leaves – and it’s probably a relief to get away from this rat nest — I  want to join everyone else in thanking him for his amazing coaching performance after taking over for the deposed Mike Yeo on Nov. 20, 2018.

After the calendar turned to 2019 that season, the Blues overpowered opponents for a 30-10-5 record in their final 45 regular-season games — setting the stage for an unforgettable rush to the Stanley Cup. What an incredible experience.

The joy and merriment ended too soon. I just hope we can trust ownership/management to lead this franchise back to that happy place.

Thanks for reading …


Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

All stats used here were sourced from Hockey Reference, Natural Stat Trick, Cap Friendly, Spotrac and Evolving Hockey.