Image source via Sportsnet
Uh oh, it’s opposite day.
Or perhaps it’s one of those days where un-sourced information reigns. When it comes time for falling out in some sports organization, you can usually tell which media outlets were carrying the water to keep the proverbial ship afloat.
I think we generally know the story by now. François Allaire, former goalie coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, in his exit interview with Michael Traikos, said that “I didn’t feel like I could do my job last year,” and “they have two or three guys who were making decisions with the goalies. In the NHL, that’s not the way it works.
“If that’s the way they want to operate, then I’m not there.”
Brian Burke went to the friendly confines of mapleleafs.com to respond, in a brief interview with Mike Ulmer, stating:
“I regret that I have to deal with this matter publicly but I feel the need to respond. 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.”
Allaire’s approach with his goalies, Burke said, hadn’t altered even though rule changes meant his insistence on the butterfly technique wasn’t working.
“The position has evolved in the last three to five years,” Burke said. Nobody plays the classic stand-up any more either. Everything advances.”
The post was titled BURKE BLASTS PERFORMANCE in big bold Québecorian letters. Not capitalized, mind you, but when you look at the title of the post versus what Burke actually says, Burke comes off as, I don’t know, kind of soft, considering an ex-employee pretty much said the organization was dysfunctional and wouldn’t let him do his job.
Now, Allaire will land on his feet. He’ll still be working with Ben Scrivens, while the Leafs have apparently hired Rick St.-Croix, a goalie coach whose website was designed back in the golden age of goaltending back in the late 1990s so you know he’s legit.
So what can we learn from media and some of the guys closest to the team? Well, Damien Cox in today’s Toronto Star offers three tidbits:
• In late fall, with the team trying to improve its penalty killing, assistant coach Greg Cronin wanted to have Allaire and the goalies sit in on penalty-killing meetings. Allaire didn’t want that. Cronin said he’d already talked to James Reimer.
Allaire warned Cronin not to speak to his goalies. Cronin responded in a most unfriendly way, and unrest within the staff was born.
• Ron Wilson, dismayed with how Jonas Gustavsson and Reimer were playing so passively deep in the crease, asked Allaire in early February to get them to play more aggressively. Allaire said he had no intention of altering the way his goalies were playing.
Wilson, out of sheer frustration, finally went directly to the goalies, bypassing the celebrated goalie guru. Soon, Allaire and the other coaches weren’t even on speaking terms.
• Randy Carlyle, who had worked with Allaire in Anaheim, gave the goalie coach a list of three conditions he would have to meet if he wanted to return for the 2012-13 season. The list included: working a maximum 17 days a month, including six with the Marlies, rather than being around the team every day; apologizing to the coaches on staff he had offended; and a commitment to teaching a more aggressive goaltending style.
Hoo boy. That, more than Allaire’s comments, is more indicative of what’s gone on with the Leafs organization in the last few seasons under Brian Burke. Note that this is all un-sourced, so Cox’s words have a chance of being simple “on-message” remarks, but if you look at what’s been done rather than what’s been said, it’s apparent that Allaire and Burke have been on separate pages.
Dysfunction or direction?
As Chemmy brought up over at PPP, Burke said as recently as March that Allaire was “the best goalie coach on the planet“. For another employee who was let go this year, Ron Wilson was given a contract extension Christmas Day, 67 days (you can’t make this up) before he was fired on March 2. “It’s not charity, it’s not a gift,” said Burke at the time of Wilson, who had “earned” his extension.
Cox brings up another rather salient point. It’s like you can’t trust what Burke says anymore. “It will be hard for Burke to back his captain,” Cox wrote, “without producing suggestions that he’s again trying to mask over internal problems”.
It’s time for Burke to be defined by his actions and not by what he says. Whether he says he’s trying to fix the goaltending, acquire a No. 1 centreman or not, the reality is that he’s been saying this for two seasons now. There isn’t a huge list of good, affordable players out there (we ran down the possibilities, at centre and at goalie) but the Burke regime has lived mostly off of inaction in the last two seasons after making big splashes acquiring Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel, progressing in the right direction.
Burke didn’t hire Wilson, but he gave him his blessing in December. Burke hired Allaire and signed Colby Armstrong. The issue isn’t dysfunction, the issue is that, by his actions since the Leafs started their slide this spring, you can tell that Burke envisions a different 2013 Toronto Maple Leafs today than he did back in 2009.
From James Mirtle of the Globe & Mail, who went more in depth about dysfunction:
By then, according to those in the organization, the turmoil had already long since set in.
Several coaches and team staffers around the league have been keeping an eye on the situation and expressed surprise on Monday that Allaire would burn bridge the way he did, with one calling him “a pro” who wouldn’t go to such lengths unless the situation called for it.
The messy fashion in which this blew up, however, speaks to a greater dysfunction in the organization, one that simmered under caustic former coach Ron Wilson and that is going to take some time to fully wipe out.
Over at the Post, Traikos doesn’t expand on Allaire’s “stubbornness” which leaves an untold story in some respect.