TORONTO - Mere months after calling Francois Allaire “the best goalie coach on the planet,” Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke would do nothing more on Monday than confirm that Allaire had left the club, saying he had no further comment.
Reached later in the day, Leafs vice-president of hockey operations Dave Poulin said about Allaire’s departure: “I’m going to leave that alone, totally.”
A message left at Allaire’s home in Quebec by the Toronto Sun was not returned. But the outspoken Allaire implied in an interview with the National Post on Monday that there was dysfunction with the Leafs coaching staff, saying that he did not feel like he could properly do his job, didn’t get enough ice time with the Leafs’ netminders and that the team had “two or three guys” who were making goaltending decisions.
Goaltender James Reimer, one of a dozen Leafs regulars who participated in an informal scrimmage at the MasterCard Centre on the second day of the NHL lockout, acknowledged that behind closed doors, not everyone was on the same page.
“I think there was some confusion last year and some misunderstandings, and I don’t know if everyone clicked,” Reimer said.
“There was some trouble in some areas. I don’t know if I want to comment on it too much, but I know there were times when he was frustrated he did not have more time to work on stuff.
“I hold nothing against Frankie and I know the decision he made and I completely understand it. From a personal standpoint, I’m disappointed I can’t work with the best goalie coach in the game.”
Is it so distressing that the Leafs will go forward without Allaire, whenever the lockout will end? Not really.
In three seasons with Toronto, Allaire never was able to find the success he had with Jean-Sebastien Giguere in Anaheim, and earlier, with Patrick Roy in Montreal. Having said that, Reimer, Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas appear to be on the right track, and Allaire had a large hand in that development. Had injuries not occurred with Reimer and Jonas Gustavsson, Allaire might have been able to accomplish more.
With Allaire as the goaltending consultant, the Leafs couldn’t drag themselves out of the defensive basement in three seasons, twice finishing 29th and once 24th in goals against.
It was not all on the netminding, however, as Randy Carlyle’s predecessor, Ron Wilson, didn’t place as high a premium on defensive hockey as most of his colleagues in the NHL.
Would it be fair to pin some of the blame on Allaire for the Leafs’ goals-against average?
“Absolutely not,” Reimer said. “Sometimes there are just tough years, and you try to prepare as much as you can. It’s the same with injuries. You can prepare and try to be as healthy as you can, but sometimes (stuff) happens.”
Carlyle took over for the final 18 games of the 2011-12 season, and though Allaire had worked with Carlyle in Anaheim he clearly was not prepared to start fresh with Carlyle in Toronto. There’s no doubt, however, that Carlyle has and will place a greater emphasis on defensive hockey. One might figure that fact would have made Allaire’s job easier.
But rumours of Allaire’s departure have been floating around since the end of last season, when his frustration with the situation in Toronto started to become common knowledge. At times, Allaire was made the scapegoat for the Leafs’ ills.
And then Burke confirmed that trying to find goaltending help during the off-season was a priority, though the acquisition of another netminder did not materialize. Roberto Luongo remains with the Vancouver Canucks, and his first choice is to be dealt to the Florida Panthers. Otherwise, there’s not much of a path for Burke to follow if he still wants to get help.
Among the names being bandied about to replace Allaire are Eli Wilson, ex-Leaf Curtis Joseph and Rick St. Croix. Reimer is heading to Winnipeg soon to work with St. Croix, also a former NHL goalie. Carlyle and St. Croix worked together with Manitoba of the AHL, so a St. Croix hiring in Toronto would make sense.
“He equipped me to play at this level,” Reimer said of Allaire. “(That Allaire left the team) is disappointing.”