In the end, it seems Francois Allaire couldn’t even save his own reputation.
As reported by fellow Leafs columnist Mike Smith, the team’s often controversial former goalie coach took several parting shots at management upon his long-delayed exit from town. Allaire was especially critical about the many secondary hands involved in training the Leafs’ goalies.
(Apparently, he doesn’t want to share the workload, which is a general problem in the sensitive world of goaltenders.)
The Leafs brass quickly returned fire. Brian Burke led the charge, referring to Allaire’s coaching style as outdated.
“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,” Burke said through a blog posting on the official Leafs website.
He added, “The position has evolved in the last three to five years. Nobody plays the classic stand-up any more either. Everything advances.”
The team has since hired Rick St. Croix as their new goaltending coach. He joins the cadre of other goaltending specialists criticized by Allaire.
While this move appears to address one of the team’s greatest weaknesses – Toronto’s ongoing inability to stop pucks has been roundly attributed to Allaire – it masks a larger problem.
Burke is the same GM who spoke positively about Allaire in early March. At this time, he referred to Allaire as “the best goalie coach in the world.”
Times change, but Burke’s assessment of Allaire only changed after the goalie guru made it clear that he wouldn’t be returning to the team. Until this point, Burke was oblivious (or indifferent?) to the many problems surrounding the team’s goaltending situation and he was characteristically dismissive of calls for improvement.
In short, Allaire was still seen as “the guy”.
A similar disconnect from reality was evident during Ron Wilson‘s final season in Toronto. Despite increasingly loud calls for Wilson’s dismissal by fans and commentators alike, Burke rewarded his friend with a contract extension over the Christmas period.
However, the sentiment was short-lived. Burke dismissed Wilson two months later after the often combative/combustible/unlikable bench boss was serenaded by local fans with a particularly strong chorus of boos.
Burke wanted to save Wilson from a repeat embarrassment on home ice, but he may have also been trying to protect himself. Wilson was quickly replaced with Randy Carlyle, who was arguably the “best” available coach at the time (which is not the same as being the right coach for the team).
Here Burke’s quickness can be seen as decisive leadership in action, but it can also be seen as lazy and ignorant of the team’s actual needs. Take your pick.
Have a young team? Need a new coach?
You could hire the biggest name in the market, or you could stroll down to Ricoh Coliseum and see firsthand how one of your own coaching “assets” has pushed a group of mostly young players to excel – the exact same players who will be sporting the big team’s jersey in a season or two.
(Yes, Dallas Eakins would have been the right coach to replace Wilson.)
Despite these major coaching changes, the real problem in Toronto appears centered around Burke’s inability to lead.
Many of his decisions are purely reactionary – he hasn’t shown the proactive depth needed to reverse the fortunes of a struggling team like Toronto. Any show of loyalty from Burke is entirely dependent on how he reads the times.
Unfortunately, Burke’s general arrogance makes it difficult for him to make objective assessments of the team’s progress. He held onto both Allaire and Wilson long after their “best before” dates had expired. Such stubbornness is not conducive to good leadership.
Until a major change is made at the level of GM, I wouldn’t expect any number of minors changes in Toronto to matter. For the moment, the team’s fate is tied to the shortsightedness and vanity of Emperor Burke.
That’s one truculent anchor.
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