The guru is gone.
Just over three years ago, Brian Burke brought in famed goaltending coach and consultant François Allaire to work with Toronto’s
goaltenders in an attempt to solidify the position. In a shocking development, the Leafs still lack a clear-cut starting goaltender, and the position seems as unstable and murky as it’s been in recent memory. Arriving to the usual Toronto fanfare and praise, Allaire was dubbed a genius that would certainly help turn the goaltending woes around. Ultimately, the goaltending carousel continued to spin, and no one net minder that Allaire worked with (Toskala, Giguere, Reimer, Gustavsson) could take firm control of the number one spot, for various reasons, which culminated in a less than amicable exodus on Monday for the Montréal native. Some choice words were had from both parties, as Allaire’s departure from the organization was about as ugly as the Leafs’ goaltending performances on numerous nights throughout his tenure.
Heralded as master of the blocking butterfly style, Allaire was lauded by Burke and said to be one of the best in the world at his craft upon his hiring, François returned the kind exchange of words by praising Burke as a reason he wanted to come to TO. In doing so the two hoped that they could conjure up similar successes to those they earned together in Anaheim, namely winning the Stanley Cup on the back of one of the league’s best goalies. This romanticized aspiration seems to have dissipated, as quickly as did the cordial exchanges between Burke and Allaire. Their most recent dialogue was characterized by accusations of meddling in Allaire’s own territory and affecting how goaltenders were handled, while Burke fired back saying the consultant’s style was outdated. Clearly, a far cry from the days where he was supposed to be a key cog in taking this team to the next level, and apparently a Stanley Cup. Needless to say that this reverie, at present, is further from reality than hockey fans waking up tomorrow and cheering Gary Bettman’s name in jubilant exhilaration, but I digress.
Rumours have percolated that will see former Leafs goaltender Rick St. Croix be named Allaire’s successor in the hopes that it’s not too late to instruct the young duo of James Reimer and Ben Scrivens that it’s OK to use your glove to catch a puck, and not simply block it. Far be it from me to criticize Mr. Allaire – a 3-time Stanley Cup champion – but it would seem that today’s top goalies certainly have a flair for the acrobatics and incorporate agility and reflex as main components of their game in addition to, of course, sound positioning. What’s interesting to note, is that Burke was a proponent of these “B+” goaltenders, a moniker that the GM himself used when to describe net minders that used the Butterfly style in addition to reactionary and reflexive techniques, or what’s come to be known as a hybrid style. Burke first used this with the Toronto media to refer to Jonas Gustavsson, who when first acquired was compared in style to Jonas Hiller of the Anaheim Ducks, a goaltender that Burke also signed. Burke recently let the naturally acrobatic Gustavsson walk to Detroit as a free agent, and now has cut ties with the professor of positioning in Allaire, evidently stating that both were not a fit for the organization. I suppose we’ll see how well Gustavsson does in Detroit, because if he returns to his natural style and enjoys success, there’s no doubt that Burke will never hear the end of it. That said, if Gustavsson stayed on board and endured another mediocre season in Toronto, the archers of Leafs Nation would be dipping their arrows in kerosene and setting them ablaze before firing at Burke. Unfortunately, these, of course, are the “what if” scenarios that tend to leave us more frustrated than anything.
Amidst the parting shots and underhanded quotes, Allaire did shed some reasonable light on the Leafs’ situation between the pipes when he said that he’s convinced that Reimer will be a good goaltender in this league, and that prospects that he was influential in acquiring – namely Ben Scrivens, Jussi Rynnas and Mark Owuya – would challenge for NHL jobs. While that remains to be seen, what is crystal clear is how Allaire’s mentality changed over the course of his time in Toronto, be that of his own volition or something that he was forced to do. As mentioned, he arrived with the intention of coaching his way to a Stanley Cup, and left with the following quote: “My job was to develop the young kids, not to win the Cup.” Somewhere along the way, whether it was his decision or not, his goal seemed to change. Naturally one has to crawl before they run, and expecting Allaire to turn Vesa Toskala into a premier NHL goaltender isn’t realistic, but nonetheless the dynamic between Allaire, and the goaltenders he worked with and ultimately the organization, underwent a serious change.
According to François, this wasn’t an intention of his as he felt he wasn’t able to do his job as he saw fit throughout last season, given that he wasn’t the only one working with the goaltenders. To this, Brian Burke responded that having the coaching staff jump in and work with the goaltenders was a must, given the lack of success that ‘Frankie’ was having. Though Allaire did say he felt he had success in developing the young goaltenders, he certainly made no mistake in pinning the brunt of the blame on the Leafs’ inability to play defense. “[The goalies] won’t have the numbers if you’re not playing defensively.” To close, Burke stated that the straight butterfly style is a thing of the past, and that “everything advances.” Leafs fans continue to wait for these “advancements” to be seen and not heard…
The Leafs hope they’ve addressed the fundamental defensive issue with Randy Carlyle, who unmistakably marks this team as one built by Brian Burke. After all, it is defense that wins you championships, right? With a new consultant on the horizon and two unproven talents between the pipes, I wonder where goaltending fits in…
Was it time for Allaire to go? Did Burke make a mistake in letting the guru go? Let me know.