TORONTO - There was a time when Brian Burke couldn’t wait to get in front of a bank of microphones.
But on Tuesday, when the Maple Leafs general manager responded to the previous day’s comments made by Francois Allaire, the team’s former goaltending consultant, he apparently just leaned out of his office at the Air Canada Centre and called over a fellow MLSE employee to voice his discontent.
And what Burke told Mike Ulmer, the senior writer for the team’s website, was nothing like the praise he heaped on Allaire back in March, when Burke called him “the best goalie coach on the planet.”
Allaire raised Burke’s ire after it became public knowledge on Monday that the Leafs and Allaire, after three years together, had parted ways.
In an interview with the National Post later that day, Allaire alleged there was dysfunction in the Leafs’ coaching staff, saying he could not do his job and that the Leafs didn’t really need a goaltending coach because they already had two or three guys doing it.
Burke waited a day before responding, and though he was critical of Allaire, he didn’t exactly rip the cover off the ball in classic Burke fashion.
“I regret that I have to deal with this matter publicly but I feel the need to respond,” Burke was quoted as saying on the Leafs website.
“Was there interference from the staff as he said there was? Yes. But it was done reluctantly and it was done to change elements of our goaltending that was sub-par.”
In short, Burke said Allaire’s blocking/butterfly technique was outdated.
“The position has evolved in the last three to five years,” Burke said. “Nobody plays the classic stand-up any more either. Everything advances.”
It’s hard to see how Burke’s views will sit positively with James Reimer, who happened to be Allaire’s brightest pupil. Reimer acknowledged to reporters on Monday that there might have been friction between Allaire and members of the coaching staff behind closed doors. But he also said Allaire’s style “fit perfectly into my natural game. That’s why it was so good for me.”
Reimer said playing the way that Allaire taught him was the most comfortable when he was in the crease.
Does this mean, especially considering Burke’s comments, that Reimer will be asked to change the way he does his job when a new goalie coach is hired? Reimer soon will be heading to Winnipeg, where he will work with former Leafs goalie Rick St. Croix. The latter most recently has been employed by the Winnipeg Jets’ AHL farm team in St. John’s, and is expected to be named the Leafs’ next goaltending consultant.
But it’s not only Reimer who has backed Allaire. Ben Scrivens, his signature still fresh on a two-year contract with the Leafs, has been adamant that the main reason he originally signed with the Leafs in April 2010 was because of Allaire’s presence on the club’s payroll.
Of course, what matters most is the bottom line, and the simple fact remains the Leafs have not had consistently solid goaltending since before the lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season. There are several reasons why the Leafs are the only NHL team to not make the Stanley Cup playoffs between the lockouts, and shoddy goaltending is chief among them.
Allaire got three years to make it work in Toronto and it didn’t happen. So if the Leafs wanted to show him the door, and Burke told the team’s website that Allaire was not going to be back, it’s hard to argue with that.
But if you’re Burke, why go to such great lengths to defend Allaire, as he did in the spring? Why not just say that everyone would be under review (which would have been completely understandable, given the Leafs’ missing of the playoffs again)?
Hard to say. Burke didn’t give an explanation on the Leafs’ website.
ST. CROIX LIKELY TO REPLACE ALLAIRE
Signs are pointing to Rick St. Croix being hired as the next goaltending coach of the Maple Leafs.
With Francois Allaire officially out of the picture, St. Croix could be named to the position some time in the next few days.
Leafs goalie James Reimer is heading to Winnipeg later this week to work with
St. Croix, who most recently has been the goaltender coach for the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps, the farm team of the Winnipeg Jets.
St. Croix, who played for the Philadelphia Flyers and the Leafs in an NHL career that ended in 1985, was the Dallas Stars’ goalie coach in 1999, when the team won the Stanley Cup with Ed Belfour in goal.
St. Croix and Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle have a history together, having worked together with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL.
Among those who also have benefited from St. Croix’s teachings are Cory Schneider, who has pushed Roberto Luongo out of the starter’s role with the Vancouver Canucks, and Canucks prospect Eddie Lack.