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Ex-Leafs goalie coach Francois Allaire rips the guidance of ex-Islanders coach Scott Gordon, providing a glimpse into how a losing team can bring out the worst in anyone.
File this under something we would not have time to follow if the season were actually underway, but which in any case is an interesting look into an NHL organization's dirty laundry when things go south.
Most are familiar with renowned goalie coach Francois Allaire's messy parting with the Toronto Maple Leafs. In his exit, he referred to interference among the coaching staff, so much that it forced a response from Brian Burke -- who, though never shy around a microphone, is reluctant to air dirty internal laundry.
New York Islanders fans no doubt perked up when they heard that association, because former Islanders coach Scott Gordon is a former goalie himself and an assistant coach with the Leafs. (Also, Gordon is every bit as self-confident as Allaire, as fans who watched his interviews recall.)
Looking at Burke's response, Allaire sent an email in French to RDS correspondent Ren Lavois furthering his case (or scorching his earth, depending on your view).
Over at Pension Plan Puppets, SB Nation's Maple Leafs site, they dug into a translation of those comments, including:
"The direction of the team was sealed after seeing the team's goalies get bogged down during the last 25 games of the season after the two assistant coaches [Scott Gordon and Greg Cronin] who have no experience training goalies disastrously took charge of the goalies during a Western Canadian trip while I worked with the Marlies in Toronto. It's more proof that it's easier to criticize and point a finger than to coach and teach."
Now, we're not going to go all TMZ-drama here. No surprise that professionals disagree, play politics, get upset, and part ways. But it is rare that they air their differences in this way, particularly in NHL circles, and it raises the question of what all ails the Maple Leafs organization.
Keep in mind that Ron Wilson brought Gordon and Cronin (each with Isles and U.S. college ties) on to shake up what had been an unsuccessful helm behind the Leafs bench. Randy Carlyle came on as Wilson's replacement in the middle of last season, and Gordon and Cronin apparently will survive that transition.
But Burke apparently wanted Allaire to survive too, having offered a contract extension with certain conditions Allaire would not agree to. (And keep in mind their relationship goes back to a Stanley Cup in Anaheim, and Burke called him the best goalie coach in the world in the height of Toronto's goalie struggles last season.
Damien Cox shared some of the alleged details of the relationship's breakdown before Allaire's latest missive. It seemed the relationships were irreparably harmed.
Which brings us back to Gordon. Remember his battles with Brendan Witt? (And to be sure, Witt was clearly on his last legs as an NHL player.) Remember Witt laying into Gordon for SNY Point Blank a year later? Point being, there are reasons to respect all of these men as professionals, though at their lowest points when the team is struggling, things can turn personal and get ugly in a hurry.
Case in point, Cox's version of the Allaire affair:
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.
The details get uglier, though you must take anyone's venting with a critical eye. But suffice to say, somewhere along the line someone was more of an ass than they should be, or the interpretation or insult was taken too far, and anyone who's been in a rocky relationship can see that things spiral downward from there. (NHL-NHLPA 2004 anyone?)
Allaire believes in himself. The Leafs believe in their people. There's surely some organizational dysfunction at work. In most cases, somewhere along the line between horrible play and horrible guidance lies the truth.
But when very prideful professionals get mired in that kind of situation, things fall apart, and the only resolution is a parting of ways.