TORONTO – To at least one of his disciples, the embattled Francois Allaire remains an icon.
The three-time Stanley Cup winning goalie coach is no longer with the Leafs, departing from the organization after three middling and often turbulent seasons.
Still, his supporters remain loyal.
"He was a great goalie coach," said James Reimer, following an on-ice workout at MasterCard Centre on Monday morning. "As far as what Frankie did for me, I can never thank him enough. I think he's the guy that prepared me for this next level the most and if there's any one person that I owe it to the most, he's one of those guys."
The Toronto crease has been a constant source of instability since the last lockout, a trend Allaire hoped to buck when he joined the organization in the summer of 2009. But whether because of injuries, inexperience and/or defensive volatility, the results never materialized at the NHL level. The Leafs ranked 29th, 24th and 29th in goals against over the course of his three-year run. Much of that turmoil was laid at Allaire's feet, a charge he grew frustrated with when leveled against weak defensive play.
As their number one goaltender last season, Reimer battled injuries and ineffectiveness, ranking near the bottom in goals against average and save percentage. His teammate in the crease, Jonas Gustavsson, also struggled to achieve consistency in what was his third NHL season, all under Allaire.
"Absolutely not. Absolutely not," Reimer responded when asked if Allaire deserved some blame for the Leafs troubles in goal a year ago. "Francois Allaire is arguably the best goalie coach in the world. It was a tough year. I think you can look at one of arguably the best goalies in the world, Patrick Roy with Francois Allaire, one of the best goalie coaches, his second year wasn't the greatest either. Sometimes there's just tough years. You try and prepare as much as you can."
Critics of the goalie coach and his big, blocking-induced style contend that it is outdated and ineffective for the rapid pace of today's NHL. His backers insist this is not the case.
"We're all in the goalies' union," said Reimer with a smirk, "but I think that the blocking/butterfly goalies look down on the hybrid ones and the hybrid ones look down on the butterfly goalies.
"I've always been more of a butterfly, use-my-size to my advantage kind of a guy which is exactly Francois Allaire's style and that's why I loved working with him so much as it fit perfectly into my natural game, I thought."
Upon his arrival to Toronto from Randy Carlyle's staff in Anaheim three summers ago, Allaire contended that the organization's goalie structure was vastly incomplete and in need of serious upgrade. He aspired to develop a network of prospects in the system, each steadily rising up the pipeline to the NHL. While his presence did help lure the likes of Ben Scrivens, Mark Owuya and Jussi Rynnas at the minor league level – yielding considerable AHL achievement for Scrivens – he was unable to implement much success with the Leafs.
"With him, pretty much everything was black and white so when a situation came up, you knew what to do and all you had to work on was your timing," said Reimer, who communicated with Allaire regarding his uncertain future earlier in the summer. "In the NHL game, everything happens so fast, that's what you need; you need to know, 'if this happens, you do this, if this happens, you do that', that's what he really did for me. He really equipped me to play at this level."