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Doug Wilson shares Winnipeg memories on NHL Hour @NHLdotcom
With the San Jose Sharks making their first trip to Manitoba since the mid-1990s to face the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night, Doug Wilson, their general manager, shared some of his memories of playing at the old Winnipeg Arena during his 16-year NHL career as a defenseman.

Wilson, who spent his final two seasons as the first captain in Sharks franchise history, recalled scoring goals there and getting injured. But there was one moment in particular that stood out, he said during his appearance Thursday on "NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman."

"They used to have this huge portrait of the Queen at one end of the rink," Wilson said. "I remember one game where I shot a puck and it actually was deflected and I think I hit her right in the cheek."


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With his Sharks set to face off against the modern-day Jets, who now occupy the MTS Centre, Wilson was asked what has gone right for a team that retooled in some respects during the offseason and entered Thursday leading an extremely tight Pacific Division race by two points.

"I think we integrated about eight or nine new players this year," Wilson said. "We made some serious changes in the summertime to add to our team. It took a while for that all to come together. Our last month in particular, we've played really well. We've played very well against the top teams. We went into Boston and beat them. We beat Detroit a couple of times, had some good games against Vancouver and Chicago.

"Like most of the teams you're just trying to find that consistency, because the parity in this League, there's no easy games, particularly in the Western Conference. Right now we're playing the way Todd McLellan, our coach, wants us to play, but we know the second half's going to be even tougher for us."

In separate trades with the Minnesota Wild last summer, the Sharks acquired playmaking forward Martin Havlat and offensive defenseman Brent Burns. Havlat put up 15 points in 26 games before being sidelined by injury, while Burns has seven goals, 14 points and a plus-11 rating in 39 games while becoming a valuable member of the San Jose blue line.

Wilson, who estimated he has traded with 28 teams since becoming general manager in 2003 -- Detroit the lone exception ("Kenny Holland and I, for whatever reason, just haven't made one.")  -- said those deals were examples of how making a deal in the NHL often isn't something that just happens overnight.

"What I try and do is keep in touch with every GM at least once a month, see how their team is performing, what their injuries are, and plant seeds," Wilson said. "Sometimes you plant a seed and it might take a year or so before a player becomes available. We did some deals with Minnesota this summer that were based upon that. We told them what it is we were looking for, and if a couple of their players they decided they were going to go in a different direction, to please call us.

"The draft was in Minnesota, so Chuck [Fletcher] and I got together face to face, had some good conversations and put together a deal that had been talked about, some of the components probably, for maybe six months prior to that. So it's a timing issue when things align that teams want to make moves and how performance or injuries sometimes impact that process."

To no one's surprise, veterans Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau have paced San Jose's offense this season, with each owning 35 points entering Thursday's action. But there's been no shortage of contributors as the Sharks look to put together a run that will take the franchise to its first Stanley Cup Final.

"Like most of the teams you're just trying to find that consistency, because the parity in this League, there's no easy games, particularly in the Western Conference. Right now we're playing the way Todd McLellan, our coach, wants us to play, but we know the second half's going to be even tougher for us." -- Sharks' GM Doug Wilson
"I think we are the sum of all our parts," Wilson said. "Our big boys have certainly played well. Logan Couture has come in and played really well the last couple years. Joe Pavelski's playing well. A guy that we picked up this summer, Michal Handzus, has been tremendously professional and I think has allowed some of our younger guys like Jamie McGinn to play well.

"Our defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic, I think has stepped his game up the last year or so and is one of our most important players. A kid, Justin Braun; Douglas Murray, a big, physical defenseman; we've got a lot of different pieces that add up to allowing us to play pretty well for periods of time."

Entrusted with getting the most out of the whole those pieces comprise has been McLellan, whom Wilson described as bringing the right blend of creativity and discipline to the coaching position. McLellan was recently selected as one of the coaches for the 2012 Tim Hortons NHL All-Star Game in Ottawa later this month, as a result of San Jose having the best points percentage in the West at the time of the cutoff.

He'll have a much more difficult task ahead of him in a few months, as the Sharks look to build upon consecutive postseasons that ended in the Western Conference Finals and erase a reputation as a team that tends to underachieve come playoff time.

"We welcome it," Wilson said of the scrutiny that comes with having to perform under playoff pressure. "If you don't want to be in a position to have to go out and prove yourself on the ice, then we don't want you on our team. We've been in the final four the last two years in a row and I think since '03 the only team that's played more playoff games than us is Detroit.

"We do not apologize for having really high expectations, and that's the beauty of our coach, who came from Detroit and who expects success every year. That's just the way it should be. We want players that welcome the opportunity to go out and play against the best. We've made the playoffs every year but have not been satisfied that we have not climbed that mountain completely. But it's not through lack of want, and our guys don't feel the challenge, which I think is really important."
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