When you’re fortunate enough to write for The Hockey News, you’re fortunate enough to meet a whole host of hockey personalities.
And if you’re really fortunate, you get a chance to get to know a little bit about a guy like Doug Wilson. The San Jose Sharks GM announced Thursday he was stepping down from running the Sharks for good; earlier this season, the 64-year-old temporarily stepped away from San Jose’s helm, given medical leave in late November, but Wilson made the choice to end his time running the Sharks after 19 years in the position.
Simply lasting with the same team for 19 years in such a position of power is an achievement for Wilson. But making the playoffs in 14 of those 19 years is even more impressive. And he’s done it with real class.
Yes, Wilson’s Sharks have struggled in recent seasons, but that shows you how hard winning really is at the NHL level – even when you have surefire Hockey Hall of Famers Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau on your side. And let’s not ever forget how incredible Wilson was as a player. This is a Norris Trophy winner we’re referencing here. This is someone who etched his name into the history of his hometown-team Ottawa 67s, as well as the Chicago Blackhawks and, finally, the Sharks, the team he skated for when he retired from hockey’s best league in 1993. He had pressure on him from the first time he played competitive hockey to his final days as an NHLer, and he always gave you the most he could when talking hockey.
And, since he was hired as San Jose's GM in May of 2003, Wilson has built a multi-competitive-cycle Stanley Cup playoff team that, truth be told, is probably a little long in the tooth in its current form. But again, it is not sometimes easy for people to appreciate how almost everything needs to go perfectly to win a Cup, whether you`re a player or a coach or a GM. You`ve got to be healthy, or at least, health-adjacent, to win it all. You've got to have a deep team to weather the storm of injuries that almost certainly are coming. Yes, you also need a measure of luck. But if just one thing is working against you, it`s hard for teams not to take on water and get eliminated quickly.
This is not to excuse Wilson’s inability to win a Cup in nearly two decades. By that metric, he did not succeed. But he was about playing a responsible way and growing the game in California, and by those metrics, he succeeded. There are many an NHL management person who would be happy to have as many chances to win as Wilson gave the Sharks in his time there.
In an ideal world, Wilson’s Sharks would’ve been sending him into retirement with a championship run. But most people never leave the game exactly when they’d prefer to. If Wilson’s health remains unstable, that should have all his attention. He has laid a foundation of big expectations, and he had an unshakable belief in the people he worked with. HIs era will be remembered with fondness, and Wilson will be remembered as a fierce competitor on and off the ice.
In a 32-team league NHL, it’s going to be even more challenging for teams to stay in the playoff race for a decade. The salary cap is about talent redistribution, and sooner or later, the sun always sets on an organization’s better days. It happens to every franchise.
All you can do is give it your best shot, and hold your head high at what you were able to achieve. And Doug Wilson can take pride in what he’s done.