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Doug Wilson: 1,000 Games the Second Time Around

by Missy Zielinski / sjsharks.com

When Doug Wilson joined the San Jose Sharks as a defenseman during the 1991-92 season, he didn't realize the role he would play in building one of the most successful expansion franchises in NHL history.

In fact, he would probably humbly deflect any recognition all together.

"If you ask him about his biggest accomplishments, he'll point to other members of his staff and say what they've accomplished instead," Sharks Assistant General Manager Joe Will said. 

Yet as Wilson approaches his 1,000th game of his tenure as Sharks General Manager, it's hard not to be impressed by the journey that has taken him from perennial NHL all-star to the helm of Team Teal.
  

Drafted sixth overall by the Blackhawks at the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft, Wilson was a "breath of fresh air" for Chicago at the time.

"He showed up, then Denis Savard showed up, and all of a sudden, the fans showed up," former Chicago Blackhawks beat writer Bob Verdi said. "They were instrumental in putting the Blackhawks back on the map."

Wilson went on to play a 14-year career with the team, capturing a Norris Trophy nod as the league's top defenseman (1982) and representing Chicago in seven NHL All-Star games along the way. To this day, he still leads all Blackhawks defensemen in career points (779), goals (225) and assists (554). 

That talent is what put San Jose on the map, as he was acquired by the organization during its inaugural year in 1991 and represented the team as its first ever captain and NHL All-Star. 

"He came in and instilled class with the players on the Sharks," Will said.

In San Jose, Wilson capped an already standout career by surpassing the 1,000-game milestone with 1,024 NHL games played.

"Doug was a star player," former Philadelphia Flyers forward and team Senior Vice President Bobby Clarke said. "He was clean and played hard, could really shoot the puck, but wasn't afraid. He was highly skilled."

"He was one of the best defensemen in the NHL," Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman added. "He was extremely well respected around the league and an elite player."

Wilson didn't disappear from the game after retiring ahead of the 1993-94 season, instead he learned more about the business of hockey with stints at the NHL Players' Association and in player development with the Sharks.

"You could really see that there was a future for him beyond his playing days," Will said. "He loved the game and wanted to go to the next level and just stay around it."

Then nearly 10 years after his retirement as a player, Wilson was named general manager of the Sharks on May 13, 2003, and has spent more than a decade establishing San Jose as not only a dominant force in the division, but in the entire NHL.

"He was good right away," Sharks Director of Scouting Tim Burke said. "A lot of times you get a short window to make it in this business. He picked it up quick. He was very patient, very progressive and very prepared. He knew what he wanted to do.

"You have to win and you have to be patient. It's a tough balance and he really understands that."

Making the playoffs in 11 of the past 12 years, no other team has appeared in more postseason rounds than San Jose (24; tied with the Detroit Red Wings). Within that playoff success is a Presidents Trophy, five Pacific Division Titles, a Western Conference Championship and the team's first appearance in the Stanley Cup Final.

There are also the many accomplishments that couldn't necessarily be quantified when they first happened, like trades for franchise players, such as Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, and his ability to find and develop late round draft picks, such as Joe Pavelski and Justin Braun. However, the Sharks are certainly reaping the rewards now. 

"The Sharks are a contender every year," Verdi said. "That's the hardest thing to do in this league - to stay consistently competitive, but he and his staff have managed to do it. It really is a model franchise." 

Wilson even coached the Sharks for one game…and is undefeated.

"He's 1-0," Will laughed. "And then he retired. That's the way he likes it."

But among his accolades as a player and a GM, some of the most meaningful accomplishments have been the relationships he has developed with his peers.

"Doug was not only a great player, but he was terrific in the locker room and one of the most popular athletes ever in Chicago," Verdi said. "He became part of the community and was a beloved teammate." 

Verdi, who covered Wilson during his rookie campaign, still stays in touch with him today and attended his recent induction to the San Jose Sports Hall of Fame in September, which is his third induction of its kind (Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame [1999], the Ottawa Sports Hall of Fame [1998]).

Yzerman, a fellow native of Ottawa, Ontario, quickly got to know his division foe when he was a rookie with Detroit in 1983-84 and even more so when they won the Canada Cup together in 1984.

"He was always an excellent teammate, a popular player and he always took the time to make you feel comfortable and a part of things, particularly me as a young guy," Yzerman said.

Now both NHL GM's, the two continue to have a cordial working relationship. 

"I've known Doug for 30 years now," Yzerman said. "When I retired and began working with the Red Wings and when I was involved with Hockey Canada, he was a guy I talked to a lot. I picked his brain on things.

"He's been a [general] manager for a long time, so when I became a [general] manager it was very helpful for me, guys like Doug, who really reached out and were there to give you advice."

That same character that has established many withstanding relationships across the league is also apparent in the continuity of his staff.  

"You know that feeling when you're working with people and they're excited [about work] and not looking to get out of work?" Burke asked. "That's what I think the strength of this group is. They love working for Doug and they love working for the Sharks. We've been together a long time and when you're around that group, it really is a family."

While Wilson maintains a "just-a-normal guy" attitude and persona, his resume speaks for itself - as does the successful product he has continued to put onto the ice. That product has allowed him to join another elite class: becoming only the fourth individual in league history to serve as an NHL general manager for 1,000 games and appear in at least 1,000 games as an NHL player.

"Playing 1,000 games, you're in a pretty exclusive league to begin with," Verdi said. "To be a GM in another 1,000 games, it's amazing."  

The other names on that list?

Clarke, Bob Gainey and Bob Pulford.

All of whom are members of the hallowed Hockey Hall of Fame.

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