Stay or go? Blues have a decision to make on interim coach Drew Bannister

ST. LOUIS – Drew Bannister will presumably coach his final game on an interim basis with the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday. After the season finale, the Blues will have a decision to make: To strip that title or start anew?

Bannister took over as the Blues interim head coach after the team fired Craig Berube, the only coach to lead St. Louis to a Stanley Cup title, last December.

Four months later, the Blues were the last team eliminated from contention in the Western Conference. It took all the way until Game 80 out of 82 to learn that cruel fate.

The Blues will miss the playoffs for the second straight year, not exactly the result envisioned for a franchise that’s historically made the dance every four out of five years on average. That said, the team has made some strides in the post-Berube era behind stout goaltending and the emergence of several young players.

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St. Louis will finish with at least 30 wins during Bannister’s trial run. His record since taking over (30-19-4) would have paced for around 99 points over a full NHL season, which likely would have beaten out two teams they consistently chased in the Los Angeles Kings and Vegas Golden Knights.

Following Sunday’s 4-1 victory over the Seattle Kraken, the Blues home season finale and first game after elimination, FOX 2 asked Bannister what his experience with the Blues at NHL level has meant to him?

His reply, in full:

“It’s been a great experience. The players, the coaching staff, [and] the management have been outstanding to me. It’s been a great learning experience, obviously for myself as a coach to be here. The players have been great to me. The coaching staff, [for me] not being one of the guys coming in here, have been welcoming.

“This is a hard-working group. This coaching staff puts a lot of hard work into what they do behind the scenes, which people don’t see a lot of. We spend a lot of hours here, and that group, they really dug in this year for this group [the players] to make sure that we were prepared to give ourselves a chance to get into playoffs.

“We’re equally disappointed. We’re disappointed in how this [season] ended for ourselves, for our players, for our organization, for the fans. But for myself, this has certainly been a great experience for me. I appreciate the opportunity, and I appreciate the effort that the players and the coaches gave each day.”

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To this point, there haven’t really been any public comments from the Blues as to what to expect for coaching beyond Wednesday’s season finale.

Prior to his promotion, Bannister had served as head coach of St. Louis Blues AHL affiliates, the Springfield Thunderbirds and San Antonio Rampage, for parts of six seasons, taking Springfield to the Calder Cup Final in 2022. Nearly half of his current roster consists of players he’s also coached at the minor league level, including Jordan Kyrou, Alexey Toropchenko, and Joel Hofer, among others.

Given his track record and familiarity with the roster, one would think that Bannister is at least in the running for consideration as the Blues head coach next season, sans the interim tag.

Possibly helping his cause, Blues chairman Tom Stillman echoed a similar sentiment Friday on Bally Sports Midwest to what Bannister offered Sunday, adding that “we’re moving along on the course that we’ve set” based on this season’s finish.

The Athletic reports that one name to follow closely this offseason as a possibility is Joel Quenneville. Yes, the Joel Quenneville that coached St. Louis from 1996 to 2004 and holds the Blues all-time record in coaching wins (307). He later won three Stanley Cup with the Chicago Blackhawks. He also spent parts of three seasons with the Florida Panthers before he resigned in 2021 in wake of a sexual assault scandal involving a former Blackhawks prospect.

Quenneville’s post-Blues coaching success could be a factor in an eventual decision, though questions remain about his ties to the scandal.

Whether it be Quenneville, Bannister or someone else come next season, it’s unclear how quickly the Blues will look to make a decision.

The Blues conclude the 2023-24 season on Wednesday with an 8:30 p.m. CT puck drop against the Dallas Stars.

For the latest news, weather, sports, and streaming video, head to FOX 2.