Let’s be honest. The firing of Mike Yeo was two weeks late.
When the team was embarrassed by the Minnesota Wild on home ice earlier this month, a change was in order. It was plain as day. However, General Manager Doug Armstrong did his usual thing and took his sweet time in dropping the hammer on his former coach-in-waiting, as Yeo was relieved of coaching duties late Monday night following a pitiful 1-0 loss to the NHL worst Los Angeles Kings.
Before you utter the words “Coach Q”, let me advise you that the chances of the former Blues head coach and owner of the second-most head coaching wins of all time returning to St. Louis this season are slim. I just don’t see it. The dude is getting paid big bucks to take shots with Chicago Bears fans at tailgates. Why rush to sign with a team? When the euphoria dies down, it’s a far-fetched idea, like Michael Bay making a movie without an explosion. Put it out of your mind until you see the greatest mustache in sports climb behind the bench at Enterprise and curse out an opposing player’s mother.
The man taking over immediately is Craig Berube, the assistant coach who joined Yeo’s staff last year. Before that, Berube led the Chicago Wolves to a first place finish in their division and a second round playoff entry. Berube spent eleven years with the Philadelphia Flyers in a variety of roles, including leading the team to a 75-58-28 record as head coach from 2013-15. A 17-year NHL veteran, Berube will get a chance to run his ideas out there for at least the next few weeks as Armstrong and Tom Stillman regroup on a season that started with high hopes.
It’s a genuine weird feeling around town this morning. As I noted in my article last week, expectations and reality crashed into each other with a thud for the Blues and their fans this season very early on. With Ryan O’Reilly coming over from Buffalo and the loose fat of the roster being trimmed to a certain degree, the Blues looked to contend for the division.
One win in eight division matchups later, and the Blues are 7-9-3 as they approach the quarter mark of the season. They couldn’t waste any more time in resetting this team and starting fresh with a new set of eyes behind the bench. Berube has been there for a while, but not in this capacity or holding this type of role. He brings a certain pedigree to the table, having been an assistant coach on the 2009-10 Flyers team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals. I want to see what he can do.
But a head coaching change can only do so much. Yeo wasn’t right for this team and had lost his way, but the players need to get their shit together overall and start playing smarter hockey. Get more shots on net and not just towards the goal. Be aggressive on defense, but play smart. They need better outlet passes from their defensemen. Colton Parayko needs to stop smiling near the end of abysmal losses and start smashing other players. Oh, and get a shot on goal more often.
Overall, the Blues are just sloppy, and can’t put two great games together. If you honestly see this team going on a winning streak, smack yourself in the forehead and rethink that notion.
There’s simply no way the Blues should get shut out by the Kings 1-0 at home with O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Brayden Schenn skating around. It’s embarrassing to the highest degree to get shut out three out of four games and asked to be taken seriously.
Remember when people thought benching Pat Maroon was good because the guy didn’t have a goal through 14 games? Well, it turns out his effect on the power play was legit. Since he was taken out of the lineup against the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 9, the Blues haven’t scored a power play in the six games since. Maroon did play Wednesday in Chicago, but the other five games have featured zero power play efficiency. But hey, how about that Nikita Soshnikov?
The Blues’ sticks have suddenly gone cold right as the goaltending is rounding into shape. It’s only three games, but Jake Allen has allowed just a single goal in his last three games. He looked very good against Chicago, Vegas, and Los Angeles. One could argue they are three of the worst teams in the NHL, but when it comes to Allen, you take the results and run.
So, Allen has started to flourish, but the 5 on 5 woes have sustained and the power play unit has fallen off a cliff. Those are your St. Louis Blues.
I’m tired of the injury excuse. Field a team on the ice and run with them. Bring Jordan Kyrou back up, give more minutes to the young guys, and get the veterans like Alex Steen and Maroon healthy and back in there. Apparently, O’Reilly and Tarasenko can’t do it on their own and Schenn is missing in action.
The defense doesn’t look miserable anymore, but they are still soft overall and illiterate when it comes to certain hockey plays and adjusting to another team in the course of a game. Many one goal games have been lost, and that reflects directly on the defensive core coughing up too many chances.
Armstong’s seat should get a little warmer as well. He put together a fine offseason, but the blind extension to Allen has done him no favors, and neither has the Jay Bouwmeester monstrosity. Extension-happy Doug is still to blame for many bad contracts here, and he can’t clear them all out in one summer. It seems like head coaches come and go, and Armstrong sticks around.
The dude has more lives than a cat. Armstrong has three-plus years left on his contract, but that doesn’t mean he will make it to the end of that thing. Sooner or later, the maker should be questioned instead of being allowed to slink away.
Tom Stillman doesn’t like seeing no sellouts into late November. Enterprise Center’s attendance isn’t flattering, and with the Blues being unable to score goals or create an energetic atmosphere on the ice, who should expect the number to be on the rise? You can expect more empty seats this weekend. Stillman’s ownership group isn’t going to have much leeway if the Blues can’t sell games out. Forget about the NHL All Star Game.
Yeo had to go, but that just means the onus falls on Armstrong and the players he brought in. Every move reflects on Armstrong and how he decided to build this team up. After missing the playoffs last season, another miss would be damaging to revenue. There is more at stake here than mere wins and losses.
The Blues came into the season with three question marks: Yeo, Allen, and the depth on defense. One of those blockades is gone, and two remain.
For the first time since Feb. 2017, the Blues wake up with a new head coach this morning, and their task ahead won’t be pretty. The once-average Toronto Maple Leafs don’t await them like they did Yeo on Bobby Plager night. The mighty Nashville Predators, owners of a 15-5-1 record, are set for a home/home series with the Blues. After that, the Detroit Red Wings and Colorado Avalanche await the Blues. That’s your November.
What can the Blues do under Berube? What kind of head coach can he be for this team? we shall see, but the execution has to come from the entire roster and Armstrong has to start thinking about his plan.
What is this 2018-19 Blues team truly made of? We are about to find out. The clock has been reset, but can the Blues actually improve? 63 games remain for St. Louis.
No matter what, I’d buy more bourbon. The excuse-making and finger-pointing sessions are over.