THIS STORY WAS BROKEN TODAY BY HOCKEY WRITER JAMES MIRTLE OF THE GLOBE AND MAIL:
I HAD MY SAY (BELOW) ABOUT FRANCOIS ALLAIRE WHILE WITH THE LEAFS ON A FLORIDA TRIP SIX MONTHS AGO. THOUGH I WISH HIM THE VERY BEST, MY OPINION HASN’T CHANGED.
By HOWARD BERGER
TAMPA (Mar. 14) – Am I the only person beginning to wonder how awful the Leafs would be if they didn’t have a goaltending consultant? Or, for that matter, what a goaltending consultant actually does?
This is not meant to be an indictment of Francois Allaire, who has three Stanley Cup rings from his days in Montreal and Anaheim. But, if Allaire’s claim to fame is working with Patrick Roy, shouldn’t the Leafs be trying to lure Glen Sather away from New York as a “scoring” consultant after all the years he spent with Wayne Gretzky?
What I’m getting at here is simple: Goaltending – like scoring – is a gift… in the DNA of those that do it best. It may be possible to refine the positioning of a goalie. But, there is no way – in my view – to teach reflex, anticipation and style: all of which are God-given. In that realm, your fat, bald uncle could have worked with Patrick Roy, among the most innately-skilled goalies in the history of hockey. Likewise with the greatest natural hitter I’ve seen in baseball. George Brett of the Kansas City Royals was a disciple, in the ’80s, of batting coach Charlie Lau and Lau therefore became a guru. The fact Brett could have hit a baseball while blindfolded seemed not to matter.
As such, the real challenge for someone in Allaire’s position is garnering a level of progress and reliability among pupils not rubber-stamped for the Hall of Fame. Or, at least ensuring that such acolytes do not plummet from distinction in the span of a calendar year.Given such criteria, it is nearly impossible to detect any advantage the Leafs have procured with Allaire as their goaltending consultant.
During his time in Toronto, no single aspect of the hockey club has been in such disarray. The promising career of Vesa Toskala – teetering amid waning confidence – was destroyed in Allaire’s first season (Toskala’s last) with the Blue and White. Jonas Gustavsson has been up and down like a yo-yo under Allaire, but has made no discernable progress with a penchant to allow soft, untimely goals. Even Allaire’s old Stanley Cup apprentice in Anaheim – J.S. Giguere – had to leave town at the end of last season and is enjoying a renaissance in Colorado.
A story that has made the rounds in Leaf circles – unsubstantiated, yet told with consistency – involves Allaire’s introduction to Toskala. Apparently, the coach’s initial words to the Finnish-born goalie went something like this: “I’ve won three Stanley Cups and you haven’t won a thing. So, you’ll do as I say.” Nothing like garnering trust and kinship.
That brings us to James Reimer. I have difficulty recalling a Leafs player at any position that has regressed so enormously in the span of one season. It is not uncommon for a second-year pro in the NHL – particularly one that flourishes without expectation as a rookie – to encounter a bump in his sophomore campaign. When that bump, however, is the size of Mount Fuji, other elements must be considered.
Reimer is an emotional wreck at the moment and that’s significant, given how grounded and mature he appears in any other circumstance. Randy Carlyle, who’s been around the NHL and AHL for 35 years, emphasized after Tuesday night’s 5-2 loss in Sunrise how fragile and nervous Reimer appeared upon making his first start in goal for the new Leafs coach.
Afterward, surrounded by a group of empathetic reporters (perhaps an oxymoron to some), Reimer seemed to be fighting tears while trying to explain how it has all gone so wrong this season. His unwavering Christian faith and tight, loving family – he maintains – is pulling him through an otherwise-dreadful situation. At no point, however, could Optimus Reim suggest when his game might re-appear.
JAMES REIMER, IN CONTEMPLATION BEFORE TUESDAY’S GAME IN SOUTH FLORIDA.
So, we ask one more time: What conceivable benefit is the hockey club deriving from Francois Allaire? Better yet, why is he tagged a “consultant” with the Maple Leafs? Allaire is at every practice and home game, and he travels with the club on virtually every road trip. In that regard, he is no more a “consultant” than Carlyle or Brian Burke. The dictionary defines “consultant” as “a person that periodically gives expert advice or information.” Allaire does nothing “periodically” for the Maple Leafs and there’s an urge to suppress laughter when considering the second part of the definition. All we can tell you – for certain – is that Reimer has suffered a rapid, excruciating demise under the Leafs so-called guru.
Consider the best goalies in recent NHL history: Ken Dryden; Bernie Parent; Billy Smith; Grant Fuhr; Roy; Dominik Hasek; Ed Belfour; Martin Brodeur; Tim Thomas; Henrik Lundqvist.
Were any of the aforementioned the product of a consultant? I’m told by a number of NHL people that the best way, historically, to coach a netminder is to leave that person alone. Work, if you must, on restoring and maintaining confidence. But, if the player is appropriately skilled and competitive, chances are he’ll overcome a rough patch on his own. Under nocircumstance, I’m told, should a coach impose his style on a goalie.
Hasek played the position like a drunk. Can you imagine what his response might have been to an advisor demanding a more conventional approach? Has it ever been necessary to teach Brodeur how to play goal? On more than one occasion in my presence, the New Jersey veteran has chuckled at those, such as Allaire, that demand the “butterfly” technique: perilous for the abundance of upper-net it provides good shooters and executed well by only a small percentage in the big league.
Brodeur has never ascribed to a lone method. He is primarily a stand-up goalie but has simply done whatever is necessary to thwart the opposition. If the butterfly is working, he’ll use that; if flopping around like a beached whale – ala Hasek – is the way to go on a given night, he’ll flop. Jacques Caron worked successfully with Brodeur and the Devils for a number of seasons – presumably by allowing his star goalie to improvise; to perform in a manner that seemed most natural.
In that realm, Brodeur has stood clear of the crowd. He wore much-smaller equipment than his NHL brethren until this season, when he increased the dimension of his goal-pads to the league maximum in an effort to offset advancing years. When such colleagues as Giguere and Garth Snow were allowed to don jerseys that would cover the infield of a ballpark, Brodeur felt more comfortable in a conventional size.
For every Leafs goalie since Belfour, comfort is not an applicable term.
As mentioned off the top, however, this blog is not meant to discredit Allaire. I have nothing against the man – he seems quite friendly whenever we meet – and I’ll readily acknowledge that a person advancing to the world’s best hockey league in any capacity warrants respect.
But, that doesn’t answer the underlying question I’ve posed today: Given that Allaire was hired by Burke to aid and abet the Leafs’ goaltending picture, where does there exist even the tiniest evidence of such expertise?
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