Brian Burke is rarely shy to trumpet his big moves (often saying he’d do them over again), including his staff-related hirings. I seem to recall (correct me if I’m wrong) that he heralded Francois Allaire as the best in the business when he signed the long-time (and former Anaheim, among other teams) goalie coach to join the Leaf coaching staff a few years ago.
When Allaire (this had been speculated for many months) formally announced his departure this week, he sounded almost biblical, as though he was kicking the proverbial "dust off his feet" on his way out of town. He essentially said (according to the National Post report on his departure) that the Leafs didn’t need a goalie coach—that they already had a few people who seemed to think they knew what they were doing with the goaltenders. Those weren’t the exact words, but that seemed to be the implication.
I’m not sure what he meant, but we can assume the parting was not entirely cordial and pleasant, regardless of how management will now couch the announcement. (The Terry Koshan Toronto Sun report indicated that Burke refused commnent on Allaire's exit...)
It’s difficult, from a distance—and being about as far from a goaltending “expert” as one can possibly be—to ascertain whether Allaire brought “value” to the Maple Leaf equation the past few seasons. Of course James Reimer has spoken highly of him. What would we expect? It's worth mentioning that Ben Scrivens will apparently continue to work with Allaire privately. Many fans and observers (and Burke, of course) have defended Allaire over the years. Many feel he did what he could with a middlish group of goaltenders to work with.
But it seems to me that someone with the supposed credentials that Allaire had, while not expected to work miracles of course, should surely have been able to leave a bit if a positive imprint, some kind of mini-legacy here. I have opined here many times that something went horribly wrong with Jonas Gustavsson, for example. I never knew if Gus was forced into an uncomfortable cookie-cuter style by Allaire, or whether that was all my imagination. I do know that, based on many reports out of Europe, Gustavsson was not remotely like the goalie he had been back home. He looked nervous and uncomfortable too much of the time here.
Further, I was not impressed with how Ron Wilson (or Burke) spoke about and handled The Monster, as I have alluded to many times before. I just had the feeling that while Gus would never say it himself, I don’t believe he truly felt the organization believed in him.
You may say…well, if he had simply played a lot better, everyone would have believed in him. But sometimes athletes need support at particular moments, and I can’t help but feel that genuine support—though positive public words were uttered at times—was not in evidence when it would have really mattered most to the fragile (and still fairly young) goaltender.
The goalies before Reimer had their own issues. That feels like ancient history. I truly don’t know how much, if anything, can be laid at Allaire’s feet for where we are now with Toronto’s goaltending mediocrity. Reimer looked good at first, but we all noticed the regression last season, post-injury. That was probably to be expected, and I am among those hopeful that Reimer can be very good here in the near future, if he is healthy and confident.
People with legitimate experience working with goalies from a technical perspective clearly know a million times better than I, but that said, something was amiss when it came to our goaltending these past few seasons. Was it all simply that all our goaltenders were not good enough? Was it lackadaisical team play? Or could it be the way Wilson dealt with the goalies, ultimately leaving them with shattered confidence?
I certainly don’t have the answers. But fair or not, I can’t say I’m shedding tears that Allaire has left.
What will be interesting to discover is who Allaire is/was referring to when he said, according to the Traikos/Post piece: “To be honest, I don’t think the Leafs need a goalie coach. I think they have enough of them. They have two or three guys who were making decisions with the goalies. In the NHL, that’s not the way it works.”
The full story hints at unspoken issues in Leafland. Is Carlyle involved? Was it the now long-departed former coach, Wilson? Was it someone in upper management that Allaire found troubling? Was there some kind of meddling or interference?
Maybe Allaire was just frustrated. He's a proud individual. He can not exactly point to his years in Toronto as high points in his coaching career, though he is well-known enough and has a reputation such that he can work any number of places if he so chooses.
Yes, it’s easy to blame the now former coaches (Wilson, Allaire) but a number of us pointed to various issues while they were still here, so in fairness, it’s not exactly “Monday morning quarterbacking” to re-hash these things now. I have zero idea if my concerns were justified when it comes to Allaire’s seeming undue influence (or Wilson’s handling of our goalies over the years), but it’s also a bit simplistic to simply say, “the Leaf goalies just all stunk for the past four seasons…”
I mean, forget the Leafs, a number of NHL teams thought Gustavsson was worth taking a flyer on three summers ago. He has not exactly had an easy road since coming to North America, with health concerns and less than fully supportive (in my opinion) coaching and management behind him. Detroit thought enough of him to sign him as a back-up behind Jimmy Howard going forward. I guess we’ll see how that goes for the former Leaf goalie.
In any event, the Allaire era is over. As is the Wilson era, the Acton era and the Hunter era. Four respected coaches, all gone. Management is running out of people to point fingers at- even if not quite directly.
Where do you sit?