On a day like today, it’s important to remember that there were actually goaltending coaches in the NHL before Francois Allaire came along, the same way people were working with computers before Steve Jobs and experimenting with electric cars prior to Elon Musk.
Allaire may not have technically been the first goaltending coach, but there is no person in the history of the game who has shaped the position more than Allaire, who announced his retirement on Facebook Monday after 32 years of working with NHL goalies. And now that Allaire has announced that he has left the best league in the world for good, the question of the day is: “Is there a place in the builders’ category of the Hockey Hall of Fame for Francois Allaire?”
There is an awful lot of evidence to suggest that indeed the man who revolutionized the position and coached three Stanley Cup-winning goalies should be the first goaltending coach to receive hockey’s equivalent of canonization. Prior to Allaire joining the Montreal Canadiens in 1984, the most successful franchise in the history of the game had never had a coach singularly devoted to the position. Those teams that did have goalie coaches generally employed a former player who was there more for emotional support than anything technical. At that time, most coaches and GMs didn’t care a lick how their goalie looked as long as he stopped the puck.
But Allaire introduced the butterfly style of goaltending and had the perfect protégé in Patrick Roy, who fit the style perfectly in a physical sense and embraced Allaire’s teachings. And the results spoke for themselves. Not only did Roy go from being a run-of-the-mill goalie in junior hockey who went in the third round of the draft to being one of the greatest goalies of all-time, but he also singlehandedly won Cups for the Canadiens in 1986 and 1993. In fact, you could argue that no Stanley Cup winners had relied more on superhuman goaltending than those two teams did.
Allaire’s stubborn insistence on the butterfly and his mandate that his goaltenders wear as big equipment as the rules would allow did for more for the position than anyone in history. Until then, goaltenders were usually born out of necessity or lack of skating ability. But Roy, with Allaire’s tutelage, spawned an entire cottage industry of goaltenders, particularly in Quebec, who were better and better athletes and were choosing the position instead of being stuck there. And when you look at how the position has evolved, it’s fascinating to see how incredibly the pendulum has swung and how advancements in goaltending have far, far outpaced those in any other area of the game. And Allaire, along with his brother Benoit, were at the forefront of all of it.
Another thing Allaire did was to actually establish the goaltending coach position and opened it up to non-players. The provincial-thinking hockey establishment had previously thought that only those who played in the NHL could guide young goalies. But think about some of the best in the game today – Allaire and his brother, Ian Clark and Mitch Korn – none of whom has played a single NHL game.
That’s not to say that Allaire did not have his detractors. He managed to cultivate a Conn Smythe Trophy winner in Jean-Sebastien Giguere with the Anaheim Ducks, then won a third Stanley Cup there. But his stint after that in Toronto was an absolute disaster. He left the organization after a dispute with then-GM Brian Burke, who called his style outdated and said management only stepped in “to change elements of our goaltending that was subpar.”
Of course, when Vesa Toskala, Jonas Gustavsson, Joey McDonald, an older and slower Giguere, James Reimer, Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas are your stoppers, perhaps it had something to do with the quality of goaltender Burke was employing. To be sure, none of them was a terribly good fit for Allaire’s style.
And Allaire did manage to put that to rest on his next stop when he helped transform Semyon Varlamov into a Vezina Trophy finalist in 2013-14, when a Colorado Avalanche team that had terrible possession numbers and was porous defensively defied all critics by making the playoffs, backed largely by Varlamov’s heroics.
What’s actually pretty ironic about all of this is that the man who pioneered the innovations in goaltending that advanced the position more than anyone else was – in the late stages of his career – accused of being behind the times. Yes, Allaire was stubborn and steadfast in his beliefs, but to say he was left behind would probably be overstating things. By a lot. There were some goalies who thrived under his philosophy and others who struggled.
So is there a place in the Hall of Fame for Allaire? Well, if there was one for Roger Neilson and his coaching innovations, then there should be one for the man who changed the game as much as Francois Allaire did.
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