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Doug Wilson set to reach rare milestone with Sharks

Will become fourth in NHL history to reach 1,000 games as player, general manager

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / Staff Writer

They still talk about the velocity of his slap shot, years later, in semi-reverential terms.

In his day, defenseman Doug Wilson's weapon scared opponents, teammates too, and kept his partner on the Chicago Blackhawks' blue line awake and alert.

"That was the hardest part about playing with him," Anaheim Ducks general manager Bob Murray said. "He shot it so hard, if he missed the net on the right side it would come around the boards at Chicago Stadium.

"It was so fast, with spin on it. It was like. 'Oh my God.' It would hit your stick as it came around and explode off of it, the spin and the velocity."

Hockey Hall of Fame member Bobby Clarke was more succinct but equally impressed.

"At that time, when I played against him, he probably had the hardest shot in the League," Clarke said.

The shot was one component of Wilson's impressive skill set, leading to 1,024 games played in the NHL, seven appearances in the All-Star Game and the Norris Trophy in 1982.

Similarly, there are many elements combining to make a successful general manager. Hidden behind the public moments, the big trades and first-round picks at the NHL Draft, are the numerous day-to-day duties, finding the right people for the right jobs and managing up and managing down.

When the San Jose Sharks play the Edmonton Oilers at SAP Center on Thursday (10:30 p.m. ET; CSN-CA, SNW, NHL.TV), the game will be Wilson's 1,000th as their general manager. The Sharks will honor Wilson's feat Jan. 31, fittingly, against the Blackhawks.

Three others have played in at least 1,000 NHL games and served as general manager of an NHL team for at least 1,000 games: Clarke, Bob Gainey and Bob Pulford, all of whom are in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Clarke called it a unique milestone.

"It's amazing," Murray said. "Just look at the names of the guys he is joining that have done it. It's a real small group, an elite group of guys. That says it all right there. It's something very hard to do.

"He's obviously a bright guy and was a [heck] of a player. To combine both of these and still be going, he's done a heck of a job on and off the ice."

Under Wilson, the Sharks have reached one Stanley Cup Final, losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016, won the Pacific Division five times and reached the Western Conference Final four times. They have been a model of consistency on the ice, making the playoffs in 11 of the 12 seasons Wilson has been their GM.

"I look at it like I got to do something I love as a player and I get to do something I love, working with and for people I truly have great respect," Wilson said.

"It always starts at the top with ownership we've always had. From Mr. [George] Gund and all the way through to Mr. [Hasso] Plattner now and all the other members of our ownership group through the years. It's been a great experience to see the growth of our franchise. Again, it starts at the top with ownership."

Pulford, the very definition of old school, was Wilson's first coach in Chicago; his powerful impression and influence continue to reverberate in NHL front offices. The branches of the Pulford professional family tree particularly are strong in California.

His son-in-law is Los Angeles Kings general manager Dean Lombardi, who has held the job since 2006 and led the franchise to Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014. He was Wilson's predecessor with the Sharks.

Wilson and Murray, who was NHL general manager of the year in 2014, played for Pulford in Chicago.

"I've been a really fortunate guy," Wilson said. "I had Stan Mikita as my first roommate, and my older brother Murray played for the Montreal Canadiens and played for the L.A. Kings and included me in a lot of things, way back when I was still a young man.

"Being able to see the way the Montreal Canadiens did things and then going to Chicago, an Original Six team, playing with Keith Magnuson and being able to play with Bobby Orr, the last year he played.

"When you ask me about milestones, I always think back to all the people who shared their time and wisdom and knowledge with me and I really appreciated it."

Among Wilson's best trades during his tenure with the Sharks have been two with the Boston Bruins. He acquired center Joe Thornton on Nov. 30, 2005, for defenseman Brad Stuart and forwards Marco Sturm and Wayne Primeau. On June 30, 2015, he got goaltender Martin Jones for forward Sean Kuraly and a first-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. Other trades brought in defenseman Brent Burns from the Minnesota Wild and defenseman Dan Boyle from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The early Montreal experiences of his older brother, Murray, and Chicago's mode of operation have stayed with Wilson as a general manger. He also counts Gainey and former Edmonton Oilers and New York Rangers GM Glen Sather, and longtime junior hockey coach and executive Brian Kilrea as significant influences.

Additionally, Wilson said he often refers to the book, "Thinking Fast and Slow," by Daniel Kahneman.

"I think you take something from everybody," Wilson said. "You learn from your failures. And as a GM, we make more mistakes than anybody, whether it's be trades or contracts or draft picks. You can't be afraid to make decisions, gather as much information as possible. The one thing I've learned right from the beginning is to hire wonderful people.

"Hire people much smarter than you. Don't micromanage them and let them do their job. You have to learn from your failures.

"You fall down. You skin your knee. You get up. You try not to repeat the same mistake."

After 14 seasons with the Blackhawks, he was traded to the Sharks on Sept. 6, 1991, and was the expansion team's first captain. He played his final two seasons with the Sharks, and appeared in his 1,000th NHL game on Nov. 21, 1992, against the Blackhawks at the Cow Palace in Daly City, California, the Sharks' first home arena.

"He gave us an identity, but unfortunately we didn't have enough talent to complement him," said Jack Ferreira, the Sharks' first GM and now a senior adviser and special assistant to the general manager with the Kings.

It was no small thing for the Wilson family to move to San Jose in 1991, just before the Sharks' first training camp. Wilson's wife, Kathy, is from Chicago and the oldest of their four children was 7.

"The person that made it work for me was my wife," Wilson said. "We played our whole career in Chicago, all the kids were born there. It was easy for me to play hockey. We had four young children. She didn't know anybody [in San Jose].

"But she said two things: 'Follow your heart, and if we're going, we're all in.'"

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