TORONTO - Of his impact on the game, there is no debate. He is credited for being the NHL's first goalie coach, for furthering the development of the butterfly style and for helping Patrick Roy become a Hall of Fame goaltender.
Brian Burke calls him a guru. His students call him the "best goalie coach in the world." But in his third season as the goaltending consultant for the Toronto Maple Leafs, with the team once again one of the worst at preventing goals, is Francois Allaire's reputation in danger?
After all, if Jonas Gustavsson (16-12-2, .905 save percentage) and James Reimer (11-8-4, .903 save percentage) are struggling to stop the puck, then surely their coach and his methodology also share in the blame.
"Not in my mind he doesn't," Reimer said. "If you look at his track record and the goalies he's coached, the proof is in the pudding. I think it's more on the goalies, not the coach."
Allaire's resume would seem to back up that assertion. From Roy and Jean-Sebastien Giguere, to Ilya Bryzgalov and Jonas Hiller, Allaire has helped shaped the careers of several of the league's top goaltenders and has the Stanley Cup rings to prove it. But since he arrived in Toronto in 2009, the man with the Midas touch has been rendered powerless.
Seven different Leafs goaltenders have studied under Allaire. And not one of them has been able to find consistency in net. Maybe, as head coach Ron Wilson suggested the other day, this is a Toronto thing. Or maybe it is time for the team to go in a different direction.
"I don't know if it's something with Frankie," Gustavsson said. "I've been working with Francois (since) before I came over here and I tried to play that kind of game back home, too, the Swedish version of it."
Allaire's system is universal. He preaches on playing the percentages. He wants his goalies to block the puck - rather than make a highlight-reel save - by being in the right position at the right time.
When it is working to its fullest effect, Allaire's goalies appear calm and Zen-like. When it is not working, they appear stiff and non-athletic.
That was certainly how Gustavsson looked the other night, when he allowed four goals on 32 shots in a 4-3 overtime loss to the New Jersey Devils. Two goals snuck through his legs. The overtime winner was a point shot that was headed wide before bouncing past Gustavsson like a stone being skipped on rough waters.
Sitting up in the press box, all Allaire could do was watch. At some point, the goaltender has to make the save. And unfortunately for Allaire, that has not happened with much regularity since he arrived to Toronto.
When asked if he was frustrated by the progress of his goaltenders, Allaire shook his head. He knew there were going to be challenges when he was hired by the Leafs. The team he inherited did not have a clear-cut No. 1 or much in the way of blue-chip prospects, and had been ranked last in goals-against average and save percentage.
Still, he was confident he would be able to turn an average goaltender into a great one by now.
"I think if everybody pushes in the same direction, it's going to be easy," Allaire said when he was hired. "If everyone wants to be better, it's going to be easy."
So far, it has been anything but. In the last three seasons, the Leafs have ranked in the bottom five in save percentage and goals-against average.
Some suggest Allaire's style is outdated, or not compatible with how Reimer or Gustavsson play. But New York Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who is coached by Allaire's brother Benoit, plays a similar butterfly style with success. And even before Reimer and Gustavsson arrived in the NHL, they were playing a derivative of Allaire's system.
"Some goalies aren't born to play a butterfly or blocking style," Reimer said. "But it works perfectly for me . . . I've said it many times, if it wasn't for Frankie I definitely wouldn't be having the success that I've had."
That success is relative. But with one of the younger goaltending tandems in the league, Allaire is asking fans to be patient. Both Gustavsson and Reimer have shown promise. The challenge is getting them to play with consistency.
"The good news is right now we've got two guys who have played over .500 and their save percentage is over .900 and we're still in the playoffs," Allaire said. "So we have something going on. We know we need somebody to take the lead and after that everyone will follow. But we're not at that point right now . . .
"We're coming. But we're not at that point."
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