By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Sep. 18) – While acknowledging that it’s easy and convenient to rip the Maple Leafs nowadays, I’m not certain why colleagues in the media have accused the club of dysfunction in the wake of Francois Allaire’s departure. In fact, I’m inclined to believe that chaos and turmoil in this regard was merely a by-product of deploying Allaire. Now that he’s moved on, the situation is likely to resolve itself.
As such, I wasn’t the least-bit surprised by Allaire’s petulance in a revealing interview with Michael Traikos of the National Post on Monday. Given the whispers I’ve heard while being around the hockey club – and a private chin-wag or two with players – Allaire long ago reached his “best before” date. It had nothing to do with forgetting his craft; the Sherbrooke, Que. native garnered an upstanding reputation while working alongside hall-of-fame goalie Patrick Roy for a decade. More to the point was Allaire’s inability to acknowledge that players averaging north of $2 million per season do not listen – or respond – in the same way as their antecedents. Single-mindedness can be an advantage and a liability… with Allaire, it trended rather swiftly toward the latter.
Steve McKichan, a likable chap that worked as goaltending coach with the Leafs in 2006-07, has not-since been hesitant to discuss matters involving his former team. On occasion, his remarks have been tinged with animosity. Based on my data, however, McKichan was bang-on when telling Dave Feschuk of the Toronto Star: “You’ll see a change in James Reimer’s game… if the [Leafs’] new goalie coach is modern and approachable, you’ll get the results.”
Such adjectives have rarely been applied, in recent years, to Allaire.
Any pupil welcoming of Allaire’s intractable adherence to the “butterfly” technique – while graciously acknowledging his pre-eminence in the game – had no problem with the coach. Questioning either would evoke an immediate rift. In a role that calls for trust and communication, Allaire had a tendency to alienate. A story that most frequently made the rounds involved Allaire’s introduction to Vesa Toskala. Apparently, the coach’s initial words to the Finnish-born goalie were along the lines of “I’ve won three Stanley Cups and you haven’t won a thing. So, you’ll do as I say.”
Consequently, words from that point on were precious and few between Allaire and Toskala, whose tenure in a Leafs uniform could not be salvaged by the so-called “guru”. At no point in Allaire’s time with the Blue and White was there discernible progress between the pipes. Reimer performed unconsciously after his unexpected recall in the latter half of 2010-11, but had deteriorated into a basket-case by the same juncture of last season. Not prone to facilitate controversy, Reimer spoke glowingly of Allaire this week, but his descent belied any-such praise.
Developing and maintaining confidence is now the task of Rick St. Croix – a Leafs goalie in the early-1980s and successor to Allaire. He is not following the toughest act.
LEAFS GOALTENDING PROSPECT BEN SCRIVENS – SHOWN, ABOVE AND BELOW, IN ACTION AGAINST PHOENIX COYOTES AT AIR CANADA CENTRE ON NOV. 15, 2011 – WILL BE BETTER-SERVED BY THE PRESENCE OF COACH RICK ST. CROIX. BRAD WHITE / GRAIG ABEL GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM
This is one circumstance in which Brian Burke should be spared abuse. Given his affiliation with Allaire on the 2007 Stanley Cup team in Anaheim, re-unity with the Maple Leafs seemed plausible. But, the results didn’t follow. We can criticize Burke for his indulgent loyalty – many have pointed to a comment late last season in which the Leafs’ GM called Allaire the “best goaltending coach on the planet” – but it’s thoroughly understandable why Burke re-hired his long-time associate. The Leaf boss did not deserve Allaire’s hatchet-job in the National Post.
Allaire claimed that others in the Leafs’ organization interfered with his role last season. Given the club’s defensive posture, how many of us wouldn’t have done the same? I’m not sure that qualifies as “dysfunction”, though neither was there any chatter that Burke would replace Allaire for the coming season (should there be one). Moreover, when a team is mired in losing for such an extended period – Leafs are the lone NHL outfit to span two lock-outs without appearing in the playoffs – any form of disarray becomes magnified. It is endemic to hockey in this city.
Ultimately, Leafs moved forward this week when Allaire backed out of the Air Canada Centre – guns blazing. Any pretense of mutual respect and loyalty went with him.
LEAFS’ NEW GOALTENDING COACH…
BETWEEN 1977 AND 1982, RICK ST. CROIX APPEARED IN 82 GAMES WITH SOME DECENT PHILADELPHIA CLUBS AND WAS DEALT TO THE LEAFS FOR BUNNY LAROCQUE ON JAN. 10, 1983. WITH AWFUL TORONTO TEAMS OVER THREE SEASONS, ST. CROIX PLAYED IN 47 GAMES; REGISTERED AN 11-28-2 RECORD AND A 4.65 GAA.
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