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Allaire: help or hindrance?

Part of Brian Burke’s plan when he took over as GM of the Leafs was to, in his mind, at least, enhance the team’s overall management structure.  He has brought in Dave Nonis and Dave Poulin, among others.  And it is an experienced, smart, management team.

The coaching staff has been retained intact, but much was made of the important addition of Francois Allaire, the long-time goaltending guru.

Now, it would be difficult to say he has inspired superior performances from Leaf goaltenders during his stay with the Maple Leafs.  Vesa Toskala came and went.  Giguere has been good at times since he came to Toronto a year ago, but hardly the goaltender he was in his hey-day with the Ducks.  Gustavsson has taken a step back over the past few weeks and is now trying to find his game with the Marlies.  Reimer has generally been very good in his first ten NHL games, Saturday night being an expected reality check—for him and for fans.

I’m out on a thin limb when discussing modern-day goalies, techniques or anything along those lines.  But I agree with something a reader (Long Suffering Leaf fan) commented on recently.  I don’t want to mis-quote him, but his post here had to do with Allaire and his, well, let’s call it force-feeding the Leaf goalies to play the same way.  (It reminds me a bit of when the Chicago White Sox had a hitting coach back about 15-20 or so years ago….everybody on the team started swinging the same.  It was quite odd.).  Allaire’s concern is with Gustavsson, I’m guessing, is that he plays a bit by the seat of his pants and while sometimes that’s OK, it’s not an approach goalie coaches want to endorse. 

Of course there are things goalies need to learn—even the best and most technically sound goalies have to work on technique and to keep getting better—but I am one of those, I must admit, who wonders if Allaire has had so much success (and a reputation to go along with that) that he is maybe not as flexible as he needs to be.

Of course, that would never be apparent in any public way by anything he— or any of the Maple Leaf  goalies— would say.  Interestingly, in a article on Friday in the Toronto Sun, Reimer was quoted as defending Allaire.  In Mike Zeisberger’s piece (I’ve always enjoyed Mike’s work), young Reimer was quoted as saying, that at the 2009 Leaf training camp (almost 18 months ago), “He told me to play deeper in my net,” Zeisberger quotes Reimer as saying. “He said that I’m such a big guy, I could still cover the net without having to come out so far.”
Hey, I’m sure that’s exactly what Reimer said and what he feels.  And I can’t question Allaire’s skills as a goalie coach, obviously.  I’m just not sure Reimer’s comment qualifies as proof that Allaire has been good for, say, Gustavsson.  (I’m willing to bet he hasn’t said two words to Reimer since the young man was called up. That’s probably a good thing.)

During a recent interview with AM 640 in Toronto, Allaire was asked directly about Gustavsson having to adjust to the style that Allaire wants him to play.

Allaire’s comment was, “There is no problem with that. I give a lot of freedom to my guys to stop the puck the proper way. I think technically what I ask him to do he is doing great. It’s not part of that. I think it’s just a matter of being a little bit more consistent, making one more save or two per game and that’s it, that’s gonna be fixed.”

So Allaire said he gives a lot of freedom, but in the next breath uses the phrase “stop the puck the proper way”.  That seems to imply there is a “right” or “proper” way.
(I’m sure Dominik Hasek had goalie coaches over the years.  But he never looked too concerned with doing it one “proper” way, though I acknowledge he surely had some fundamental, consistent things that he stayed with—along with his all-over-the-place acrobatics.)

In any event, Allaire claims his goalies have freedom.  OK.  My guess is, when a goalie is hot, playing well, in that “zone”, he’s just there.  He’s feeling good, confident and not spending much time thinking or worrying about what some coach is saying.  He’s just reacting and making saves and the puck looks very, very large.  He swallows rebounds, anticipates well.  Everything is locked in.

Unfortunately, you can almost predict what might happen now.  Reimer has now had a “normal” game.  If he rebounds and gets on another roll, no problem.  If not, Allaire will see it as his job to get involved, and the next thing we know, Reimer will be where The Monster is:  too many instructions in his head, not enough just playing on skills and his own natural instincts.

I may be very wrong about Allaire.  We’ll see.


  1. Long suffering Leaf fanFebruary 7, 2011 at 9:21 AM

    Hockey is a game about making adjustments. The Leafs goalies have become too predictable. The opposition books on the Leafs goalies, it seems, is to shoot high on the glove hand, if possible, between the arch of the extended arm, and bend of the elbow, and the shoulder. That is exactly where the Sabres scored four of their goals on Saturday night! I am in total agreement with ex-Leaf Paul Harrison, when he said in his interview you had with him that today’s goalies rely on the butterfly style too much and drop to their knees a little too early. In his assessment, he felt (I totally agree) that maybe it would be better to teach a hybrid style. By doing so, it would allow the goalkeeper the freedom to use his natural abilities. Mr. Allaire, no disrespect to you and your achievement, but like a wise man once said, “He that doesn’t learn to advance is doom to die as a dinosaur.”

  2. Long suffering Leaf fanFebruary 7, 2011 at 9:27 AM

    Something just occur to me. Why did Jonas Gustavsson played better in the net after the Olympic break last year? Could it be him spending time Swedish goalie coach?

  3. Thanks Long Suffering...I'm sure Allaire is a more than capable goalie coach, and has been for years. But as we all discover through the years, not every coach (and their approach) fits for every athlete. I just wonder in this instance if Allaire is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. We'll see if The Monster will regain his confidence. There are no doubt things he has learned from Allaire, but at the end of the day, it strikes me that a goalie still has to play the way he naturally plays.

  4. One wonders if Allaire translated the French "propre" to "proper", and actually meant to say "his own way." The inconsistency is too glaring to not entertain this possiblity, I think.