The St. Louis Blues parted ways with head coach Craig Berube after a 6-4 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, Dec. 12. With that move, they named their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate Springfield Thunderbirds head coach Drew Bannister as the interim head coach. This came after a 13-14-1 start to the season under Berube, who led them to a Stanley Cup in 2019 and had multiple playoff runs with the franchise.
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There is still a chance that Bannister gets the gig full-time, but for this article, I will examine three candidates who could make sense for the Blues moving forward into the 2024-25 season.
First up is former Edmonton Oilers head coach Jay Woodcroft. After a disastrous start this season, the Oilers fired Woodcroft and brought in Kris Knoblauch to replace him. Woodcroft had a 76-32-12 record as the Oilers head coach heading into this season, but the team started 3-9-1 and he was fired as a result. He reached the Western Conference Final in his first season with Edmonton and the second round last season. He helped turn the team around after their underperformance under Dave Tippett.
Woodcroft wouldn’t be the same type of recycled head coach as others who have been thrown around in conversation such as Gerard Gallant or Bruce Boudreau. Under Woodcroft, the Oilers ran similar systems to what Tippett did prior, but the execution over the past two seasons was sharper. He deserves another chance to be a head coach and I think he would be a solid fit for what the Blues might be looking for.
Blues general manager Doug Armstrong is friendly with Oilers general manager Ken Holland, so he could reach out to him and ask about Woodcroft. The Blues hiring him would not be a surprise whatsoever.
I’m not advocating for Joel Quenneville to be hired by the Blues, but I’d be surprised if he isn’t considered by Armstrong once he is reinstated by commissioner Gary Bettman. The scandal with the Chicago Blackhawks made everyone, including Quenneville look very bad, and there’s zero excuse for any of that.
Before winning three Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks, Quenneville spent parts of eight seasons as the Blues head coach. He had 307 wins in 593 games and made the playoffs in his first seven seasons before being fired in 2003-04. I think the Blues should not consider hiring him right now. He is 65 years old and while he has a brilliant on-ice resume, they would benefit from looking for a newer and fresher perspective. Even Woodcroft would represent something like that.
This is more of a personal opinion than something that could actually come to fruition, but I think San Jose Sharks assistant coach Ryan Warsofsky could be one of the best “next in line,” young first-time head coaches. A hire like this would signal a focus on the future of the franchise, which is why I would hesitate to believe Armstrong would make a hire like this.
At 36 years old, Warsofsky spent four seasons in the American Hockey League (AHL) with three of them as the head coach of the Charlotte Checkers for one season before the Carolina Hurricanes affiliate was switched to the Chicago Wolves for his two seasons there. He’s been an assistant under Sharks head coach David Quinn for the last two seasons. He won two Calder Cups in the AHL and one of them came as a head coach. He runs a Sharks penalty kill unit that finished eighth in the league last season and is 15th overall in the past two seasons combined.
From everything written about Warsofsky, he could be one of the main candidates for a coaching search focused on hiring a first-time head coach. I certainly think the Blues should consider him throughout the process.
Names such as current Blues assistant coach Steve Ott, Los Angeles Kings assistant coach Jim Hiller, former Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith, former Minnesota Wild head coach Dean Evason, veteran head coach Gerard Gallant, and others come to mind. However, I think there are plenty of candidates without head coaching experience. I would be in favor of the Blues not recycling a head coach with how overly prevalent it is in the NHL.
Overall, I would not be surprised if the Blues stuck with Bannister as the head coach. However, they must continue winning and playing hard for him. The Blues should consider keeping him around while also doing a full search for the full-time head coach.