Simmons: Burning questions for Leafs

Leafs goaltending coach Francois Allaire (centre) chats with Toronto netminders James Reimer (left)...

Leafs goaltending coach Francois Allaire (centre) chats with Toronto netminders James Reimer (left) and Jonas Gustavsson during a February practice. Allaire's impact with the Leafs has been negligible. (QMI Agency/Craig Robertson)

Steve Simmons, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:01 PM ET

There is no questioning the credentials of Francois Allaire, goaltending consultant. There is, however, all kinds of reasons to question the results.

What’s relevant now in the ongoing debate about the Maple Leafs’ goaltending instructor is not whether he knows his stuff, but whether he can succeed with the Leafs.

And so far, he’s not succeeding.

Brian Burke has given Allaire the same vote of confidence he gave Ron Wilson at the end of last season — pointing out he didn’t forget how to coach overnight — but isn’t it incumbent upon Burke now to take a step back and consider the immediate needs of his hockey club first?

Allaire has not succeeded with either James Reimer or Jonas Gustavsson, which was his primary responsibility. The Leaf goaltenders are among the worst in save percentage. Gustavsson is 39th in the NHL; Reimer is 43rd. The Leaf duo ranked better than only two starting goalies in terms of goals against average.

Coaching isn’t about credentials. It’s about results. You succeed and you keep your job. You fail and you go elsewhere.

ABOUT THOSE LEAFS

The Burke question of the off-season: With free agency thin and the Leafs having little chance to get Zach Parise or Ryan Suter, how do you acquire 1) a starting goaltender; 2) a first line centre; 3) players with a modicum of leadership and accountability when all you have is exposed and diminished assets to deal from? Burke inherited a Rubik’s Cube when he took over the Leafs and has proceeded to build one of his own ... Cliff Fletcher used to say it was easy to assess a team at the end of the season by counting the number of players who exceeded expectations and subtracting those who played below expectation. By Leaf standards, the overachievers were Jake Gardiner, Joffrey Lupul and maybe Tyler Bozak, because expectations for him were low coming in. The underachievers: Nik Kulemin, Clarke MacArthur, Jonas Gustavsson, James Reimer, Luke Schenn, Colby Armstrong, Mike Komisarek, Cody Franson, Matthew Lombardi, John-Michael Liles and Tim Connolly. That, for the record, is more than half the Leaf roster on the underachieving side ... By the way, who keeps saying Connolly is having a lousy season? When I checked the statistics Saturday, he was one point ahead of Sidney Crosby in league scoring.

THIS AND THAT

Next time John Tortorella is cashing one of those large New York Rangers’ cheques — rather than paying his share of fines — maybe he should take a moment to comprehend the reason the cheques are the size they are is because of talented “whiners” like Crosby ... If all Hockey Canada is going to do is duplicate what’s already in the Hockey Hall of Fame with its new Order of Hockey award, then it’s truly wasting an opportunity. Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux don’t need any more awards or recognition. The Order of Hockey is a great idea if it ends up with people like Fran Rider or Clare Drake or Tom Watt or maybe Paul Henderson, those with Hall of Fame credentials. who for whatever reason won’t get Hall of Fame recognition ... Heard a rather haunting scouting report on highly ranked Mikhail Grigorenko, one of top players expected to be picked in NHL draft. “He’s a cross between Nik Antropov and Chad Kilger,” the respected scout said. And that, folks, is not a ringing endorsement ... Heading into the season finale in Montreal Saturday night, Randy Carlyle had coached in 41 games this season, and won just 13 of them. Seven in Anaheim. Six in Toronto ... Assistant coach Keith Acton essentially lost his job last season because the Leafs were 28th on the penalty kill. Without Acton this season, the Leafs were 29th, playing a man short. A Burke-Ron Wilson stat: In the past four seasons, the Leafs have been 29th, 28th, 30th and 30th while playing shorthanded. And what’s troubling: Each season they changed their penalty killers ... Weird, sometimes, how things work out. Steve Yzerman will spend the summer trying to upgrade his goaltending while the goalie he didn’t want in Tampa, Mike Smith, is lighting it up with the Phoenix Coyotes ... What a fine and lasting tribute by Jason Spezza and his wife, Jennifer. They named their second daughter, Nicola, no doubt named after the late skier, Nikola Zoricic, a close friend of Jason’s.

WHY NOT HOLLAND?

When the Hockey Hall of Fame looked to replace Harry Sinden on its selection committee, it strangely settled on Brian Burke. The question is: Why? A better question might be: If you’re going to pick one general manager to represent the history of the sport, why not pick the best one in the game? That would be Ken Holland of the Detroit Red Wings. But the thing is, Holland was never asked or approached about a Hall of Fame seat. Never mind that Holland has been on the job 14 seasons and the Wings have had the remarkable record of 12 straight 100 point seasons. Never mind that he has never missed the playoffs. Never mind that Burke’s reputation is uneven, his teams have missed the playoffs four straight years and by comparison, he has had four 100 point seasons in his career. The resumes of Burke and Holland don’t compare. Which makes you wonder: Why didn’t the Hall contact Holland first?

OUR HOCKEY OBSESSION

Who is the best 15-year-old football player in Canada. Do we know? Do we care? What about baseball or basketball? Who’s the best Grade 9 or Grade 10 kid playing the game right now. For the most part, we don’t have a clue. But when it comes to matters of hockey, there is more than a need to have a clue, it’s almost become a necessity. The Ontario Hockey League priority selection draft took place on Saturday and underager Connor McDavid was the first choice. He just turned 15. Joshua Ho-Sang, who played on the same Marlies team as McDavid, was selected by Windsor fifth overall, and may well be the most talented player of his age-group. Maybe McDavid and Ho-Sang will be the next John Tavares and Steven Stamkos. Maybe. Maybe not. But it seems almost unfair to put these young players under the microscope this early in their lives. They’re just kids. Its unfair. It’s unfair, but it’s our game, and our need to know, and our need to develop. Still doesn’t feel right.

THE BLUE JAYS BUZZ

I can’t remember the last time a Blue Jays season opened with this kind of anticipation. Maybe it’s because the Maple Leafs and Raptors have had atrocious seasons. Maybe it’s because of the ridiculous spring record of the Jays. Maybe it’s because of the methodical way in which Alex Anthopoulos has restructed the Jays roster. Whatever the reason, you can’t create buzz on its own. It just happens. People talk about you or they don’t. People care about you or they don’t. Everywhere I went this week, someone was talking baseball. That’s the way is was in Toronto in the big years. All baseball talk, all the time. Since then, not so much. The opportunity for the Blue Jays is massive this season: It isn’t just about winning or contending or extra innings. It’s about being a baseball town again. Remember when? It’s been a long time coming.

SCENE AND HEARD

Everything Bryan Colangelo has done this season has been predicated on getting an early draft pick for the Raptors. If Dwane Casey coaches the Raps out of that pick, which is entirely possible, then all the cap space in the world won’t bring NBA free agents to Toronto. The Raps need to hit a home run with their draft pick this year. Hearing about cap space and salary cap flexibility is getting old, fast ... My favourite thing about this young Blue Jays season. The uniforms and the ballcap. Very inspiring ... Read where Warren Sapp is the latest athlete gone bust. Apparently he is behind in child support payments to four different women and the poor guy can’t get by on his $540,000 salary a year ... Can’t remember when I’ve thought this was a must-lose game for the Leafs but Saturday night it was ... The 2008 NHL Draft is quickly turning classic: Among the grads — Steven Stamkos, Alex Pietrangelo, Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Jake Gardiner, Jordan Eberle and Tyler Myers ... That was nice of the Argos to move a pre-season game to the afternoon so that school kids could attend. Not great, however, if you happen to be a season ticket holder and have to skip work to take in an exhibition game ... Of those drafted in the first round of the OHL priority selection Saturday, six go to the same high school. The Premier Elite Athletes’ Collegiate, better known as PEAC, hasn’t been around long but it is quickly getting a reputation as the place to be for budding athletes.

AND ANOTHER THING

My NHL award picks. Hart Trophy: Henrik Lundqvist (runner ups, Evgeni Malkin, Jonathan Quick); Norris Trophy: Zdeno Chara (runnerups Erik Karlsson, Shea Weber); Calder Trophy: Gabriel Landeskog (runnerups Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Henrique); Adams Trophy: Ken Hitchcock (runnerups Paul MacLean, Tortorella). And as for the Selke and Lady Byng, really, other than family members, who cares? ... If he wasn’t embarrassing enough to begin with, now comes the latest from Islanders owner Charles Wang. It seems he’s cut Pat LaFontaine out of team highlight packages because of a past disagreement. Wang can’t win so he’s trying to re-write history ... The NHL will not penalize officials Stephen Walkom and Brian Pochmara for somehow missing the Ryan Clowe silliness of the other night. “Things happen fast and we are not perfect,” director of officiating Terry Gregson indicated by email. And of that, he is correct ... How you know Jake Gardiner is on the upswing: He had one goal in the first four months of the season and has six since. He had nine points in the first three months and has 21 in the past three .... Rest in peace, Chief Jay Strongbow ... As bad as things look for the Leafs, they look even worse for the Calgary Flames. There are only two Canadian teams in the playoffs this year and there may not be much more than three a year from now ... Born this date: Gary Carter and Catfish Hunter. And a happy birthday to John Havlicek (72), Jim Lampley (63), Dennis Meyer (62), Fred Smerlas (55), Felix Hernandez (26) and Pete Walker (43) ... And hey, whatever became of Paul Ysebaert?

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/simmonssteve

 


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