Nine years ago, sturdy left winger Patrick Maroon was dismissed from the Flyers’ top minor-league team for an alleged physical confrontation with his head coach.
Four years ago, Craig Berube was fired as the Flyers’ head coach and replaced by Dave Hakstol.
Fast-forward to this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. Maroon is a hero on his hometown team in St. Louis — he had two game-winning goals, including one in the second overtime of Game 7 against Dallas in the conference semifinals — and Berube has coached the Blues to one of the most remarkable in-season turnarounds in NHL history.
Berube, a onetime Flyers enforcer (remember them?) who was named St. Louis’ interim coach on Nov. 19, has guided the Blues from last among the NHL’s 31 teams in January to the league’s final four.
Yeah, it’s been an amazing odyssey for two ex-Flyers who are trying to help deliver St. Louis’ first Stanley Cup.
To appreciate the 31-year-old Maroon’s journey, you have to go back to his dark days with the Adirondack Phantoms.
Selected by the Flyers in the sixth round of the 2007 draft, the 6-foot-3, 225-pounder had surprisingly good hands for someone his size and continued to make strides in his third full season with the Phantoms.
Nine games into the 2010-11 season, Maroon, then 22, led the Phantoms with five goals, but he was sent home after an incident with head coach Greg Gilbert. At the time, Maroon was dealing with a personal problem and his training habits were, to put it mildly, questionable.
“They say 'Keep your nose clean.’ I was keeping my nose dirty,” Maroon told ESPN early this season, referring to his partying AHL days.
“He was a young, immature kid when we had him,” Flyers president Paul Holmgren said the other day. “He’s grown up. ... He’s playing a physical role now, but as a kid, he was a top-line player in junior hockey for the London Knights. Now, he’s a [third-line] role player and it’s a credit to Pat. He’s accepted it, and he’s good at it.”
Holmgren was the Flyers’ GM when Maroon was removed from the Phantoms.
"We sent Pat home, and we were trying to figure out what we were going to do with him,” Holmgren said. “It was a probably a knee-jerk reaction on my part, thinking back. In hindsight, it worked out great for Pat; it didn’t work out that great for the Flyers. The Phantoms were playing in Glens Falls. We didn’t have a management presence there on a regular basis, and that probably didn’t help the situation.”
In a swap that involved four minor-leaguers, Maroon was quickly dealt to Anaheim, where he played for parts of five seasons and spent time on the top line alongside stars Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry. He then played in Edmonton and was one of Connor McDavid’s wingers — Maroon had 27 goals in 2016-17 — and was dealt to New Jersey in a 2018 trade-deadline deal.
Maroon signed a one-year, $1.75 million contract with St. Louis last summer, and had 10 goals and 28 points this season, saving his best moments for the playoffs.
Maroon could have signed as a free agent with another team and could have made more money, but he chose the Blues because St. Louis was home and he wanted to be close to his son, Anthony.
Clearly, he has matured from his days as a Flyers prospect.
As for Berube, then-general manager Ron Hextall painfully fired his good friend after the Flyers’ maddeningly inconsistent 2014-15 season (33-31-18). In his only other season as Flyers coach, Berube replaced the fired Peter Laviolette three games into 2013-14 and led the team into the playoffs, where it lost to the Rangers in a seven-game, opening-round series.
Now, Berube has a chance to accomplish something no other St. Louis coach has been able to do since the Blues entered the league as part of the NHL’s six-team expansion in 1967-68.
“I’m ecstatic for Chief. He’s put his time in and done a good job there,” Holmgren said. “Look at where they were in January and where they are now. Something happened, and they came together and figured it out.”
The Blues, with their many newcomers gradually getting in sync under Berube, ran off 11 straight wins from Jan. 23 to Feb. 19. They went 38-19-6 after Berube replaced the fired Mike Yeo, who on Monday was named a Flyers assistant.
Seeing how Berube has turned around the Blues, it’s easy to play Monday morning quarterback. Does Holmgren ever have any second thoughts that maybe Berube could have done the same thing if given a longer leash with the Flyers?
“No real second thoughts. I mean, that’s the nature of the business sometimes,” Holmgren said. “We made a decision, and at the time I thought it was the right decision.
"But it’s great for Chief that he bounced back. He fought his way back and started doing some scouting for the Blues and they put him with their minor-league team and he got a real familiarity with their general manager, Doug Armstrong. Then they brought him up as an associate coach, and when they had to make a change, Chief was probably a pretty easy [choice] to fill the spot.”