Leafs' Wilson: Bad starts make smart coaches suddenly stupid

Ron Wilson has seen firsthand how smart coaches can suddenly become the dumbest guys in the room during losing streaks.

Last season, when the Toronto Maple Leafs had their epic stumble out of the gate, Wilson was seen as a hapless manager, an angry man behind the bench and a coach setting a bad example for his team. His placement on the firing line wasn't fair, but there he was: The man the Edmonton Journal once sarcastically labeled "either the man who invented hockey or just one of its smartest coaches" was fitted for a dunce cap.

Scrutiny of Wilson's system and calls for his dismissal have continued into this season, although the Leafs' hot start (now very much cooled) kept the intensity of those protests more muted than last season. Meanwhile, as the Leafs prepare to host the Buffalo Sabres in Hall of Shame, er, Fame game in Toronto, he's seeing the same kind of scrutiny he faced last year being focused instead on Coach Lindy Ruff of the Buffalo Sabres.

Canadian Readers: Click here to watch Hockey Night in Canada on Y! Sports Canada, featuring the Sabres at Leafs (7 p.m.), the Senators at Canadiens (7 p.m.) and the Red Wings at the Canucks (10 p.m.).

Wilson was asked about the Sabres' struggles, as the team has 8 points in 14 games, worst in the NHL. Like the Leafs last year, they're missing significant personnel during their struggle -- like goalie Ryan Miller(notes), who will miss tonight's game.

The Leafs coach doesn't have sympathy for the Sabres. But he certainly has sympathy for a fellow coach's plight.

From the Globe & Mail:

As for recent talk around the hockey world that Sabres coach Lindy Ruff's job may be in jeopardy after 13 seasons in Buffalo due to their 3-8-2 start, Wilson said that it's "ridiculous."

"The best scoring team in the league's just been shutout twice and three times in a row on the road in the [San Jose] Sharks so maybe they should fire the coach and trade three of their best players in order to shake things up," Wilson said of his former team, which is also off to a slow start.

"You constantly go through ups and downs and you have to maintain a long-term picture of the whole thing. Lindy's a great coach. To suddenly [suggest he has gone] dumb, in the course of a month, is ridiculous. He's one of the best coaches in the league."

That said, Ruff has put it upon himself to right the ship. From the Toronto Sun:

"It's my responsibility to pick them up," Ruff said of sagging player confidence. "It's on my shoulders. Pick them up, put them back together. Pick them up, get them ready to play."

Toronto is 1-8-2 in its last 11 meetings with Buffalo, but a lot of that had to do with Miller. Can the Leafs kick-start a Buffalo revival and, in the process, start giving Lindy Ruff his "smarts" back in the eyes of critics?

Also tonight in HNIC on Y! Sports:

• The Montreal Canadiens host an Ottawa Senators club that it's already beaten twice. Jason Spezza's(notes) warming up for the Senators. Montreal may have one of the best line names in the NHL right now: The "PhD Line" of Benoit Pouliot(notes), Jeff Halpern(notes) and Mathieu Darche(notes). Doesn't hurt that these guys produced all three goals in the Habs' win over Buffalo Friday night.

• The Detroit Red Wings head to Vancouver to face the Canucks in a terrific Western Conference throwdown. Which means Todd Bertuzzi(notes) is back in Vancouver -- always a good time. By the way: How incredible has Raffi Torres(notes) been for the Vancouver Canucks? Five goals in three games and playing meaningful hockey ... alas, he's notorious for being a streaky player.

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