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Former Leafs coach Wilson feels the pain

3/31/2014
Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images

If there’s anyone in the world who knows what Randy Carlyle is going through right now in Toronto, it’s Ron Wilson.

Just two years ago in early March 2012, after a late-season skid that dropped Toronto out of a playoff spot, Wilson was fired as Maple Leafs coach and replaced by Carlyle.

So yeah, with the Leafs currently mired in an eight-game losing streak that has dropped them out of a playoff spot and completely freaked out the league’s biggest hockey market, Wilson knows what his replacement is living.

“In Toronto, everything is always out of perspective; they’re either winning games and they’re planning the parade route,” Wilson said on Monday from his home near Hilton Head, S.C., “or you lose a couple of games and everything gets over-exaggerated.”

What Carlyle is going through now, Wilson has felt it.

“It’s pretty hard to coach there without allowing some of these things to kind of affect you,” Wilson said. “That goes for the coaches, but the players, as well. You can’t go anywhere without hearing about what’s going wrong or all this kind of stuff.

“I really feel for the coaching staff and, above all, for Randy right now. He’s got the same thousand-yard stare that I had. But at the end, you almost feel like it’s completely out of your control, everything takes on a life of its own. It’s unbelievable.”

Wilson’s 2011-12 Leafs lost 10 of 11 games before he was fired in early March by former Leafs GM Brian Burke.

“I can’t blame Burkey for what he did,” Wilson said. “He was trying to salvage the season. We had had a good season until we got on that losing streak, that so-called ‘18-wheeler’ that Burkey talked about. It happens, and it takes on a life of its own, and you feel like you have no control, you can’t find a way to get out of it.”

But just like the rest of us, Wilson remembers how it looked for the Leafs just less than three weeks ago after Toronto had some big wins in tough buildings and sat comfortably in a playoff spot. Then the train began going off the tracks.

“It was just a few weeks ago when they played so well in Anaheim and L.A.,” Wilson said. “I mean, what’s happening now, it’s not about goaltending. A lot of nights when I watch the Leafs this year, I think to myself they should be down 4-0, but they’re up 3-2. It’s not goaltending, I don’t think.

“I watched the last two games this weekend; I thought they played OK in those games, but right now they’ve got no puck luck. It’s like maybe they used up all their puck luck earlier in the season when they were getting outshot but still won games. You might say they had a lot of puck luck in those games and it’s dried up now. A lot of the players are squeezing their sticks right now, which tends to happens in these situations.”

Wilson thought the Leafs were on their way to ending the losing streak Saturday at home against the Red Wings.

“I thought after the first period against Detroit on Saturday they would pull away at some point,” Wilson said. “But it never happened; they made a couple of catastrophic errors, like a giveaway at the wrong time. You ask yourself, ‘Why would a guy make a mistake like that, it’s a total lack of awareness.’ That’s kind of what clouds your mind when you’re in a slump like this.

“You wonder why a defenseman didn’t back up a forward in a certain situation or why a forward missed a backcheck. ... When it’s going bad, those things snowball and there’s not much you can do to stop it.”

Wilson, meanwhile, hasn’t coached since his Toronto exit, but remains interested in returning under the right circumstances.

“I would if the situation is right,” said the longtime coach, who also had stints behind the bench in Anaheim, Washington and San Jose and led Team USA’s silver-medal run at the 2010 Olympics. “But I’m not in a position where I say I’m desperate for job.”