The last time the Maple Leafs hired someone with the credentials of Francois Allaire, the year was 1970 and the man’s name was Jacques Plante.
Yes, the press release indicating the Maple Leafs had contracted the 53-year-old Allaire as a goaltending consultant was a big deal.
It makes an impact now and in the future. You can make an argument that Francois Allaire and Patrick Roy have been the most important figures in hockey over the last 15 years.
Bigger than a fading Mario Lemieux and all the bright stars, from Jaromir Jagr to Jarome Iginla on down. Despite the greatness of the game’s position players, scoring has gone down because goaltending has become much, much better. And it is much, much better largely because of Francois Allaire.
The Montreal Canadiens 1986 and 1993 Stanley Cup victories were built on Patrick Roy who was built by Francois Allaire. The style they methodically constructed was pioneered by Hall of Famer Glenn Hall who felt he was too weak in the arms to play the puck with his stick.
Allaire’s butterfly was brilliantly conceived. Like music, it was mathematically based, a series of movements that swung the position from one of intercepting the puck to one that allowed the goalie to pull his body to where the puck was most likely to go.
The only goalie to resist its pull, Dominik Hasek, invented his own style built on his own out-of-world flexibility and vision. The player and the game were better than anything seen before but, replicating the iconoclastic Hasek would be like trying to split an atom with a butter knife.
The Allaire style, propagated by Quebec goaltending clinics, has heavily influenced goalies from Martin Brodeur to Marc-Andre Fleury to Guy Hebert and Jean-Sebastien Giguere who won a Cup for Allaire in 2007.
It arrived along with substantial advancements in goaltending equipment. For the first time, goalies could practice as intensely as they wished. Up until recently, rulemakers were slow to understand the improvement of new gear that also made goalies look like free-skating continents in the crease. The butterfly, built on economically denying access to the net, was planted in the most fertile soil.
Allaire had found a better way and even a cursory view of NHL creases reveals a profound shift in the philosophy behind the game’s most pivotal position.
Now he works for the Leafs as a consultant, a job that will allow him to work with all the prospects in the organization and maintain a family life in Quebec.
So what does all this mean?
Well, for one thing, it means the Leafs’ pursuit of Swedish goalie Jonas Gustavsson
has been granted another gear. Gustavsson is unproven but he is 24 and he has superb athletic ability. His presence would pace incumbent Vesa Toskala who enjoyed his best seasons in San Jose when he was pushed by the likes of Evgeni Nabokov.
It should prompt the Leafs to reconsider what to do with Justin Pogge. A disappointment over the last three years, Pogge might seem more salvageable with Allaire's help.
It means Leaf prospects such as James Reimer
will now have access to the game’s most famous goalie coach.
It means the Leafs are doing it again. Just as they did when they initially signed Burke who landed collegians Tyler Bozak
and Christian Hanson, Allaire and now perhaps Gustavssson, the Leafs have strengthened the club’s infrastructure without putting a dime against the salary cap