The Doug Wilson Era Ends In San Jose

Doug Wilson
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The most important person in San Jose Sharks history, Doug Wilson, is stepping down as the team’s general manager effective immediately.

Wilson’s resignation is due to health issues. He began a medical leave of absence in November 2021, less than two weeks after he was (long overdue) inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Five months later, it is apparent that whatever ails him is both significant and long-term. First and foremost, we wish him a full recovery.

The Doug Wilson Era With The San Jose Sharks Comes To An End

Doug Wilson began with the Sharks in 1991, when he joined the team and became the first team’s captain. After two years of franchise misery (record-setting misery) in the league’s most miserable venue (the Cow Palace), Wilson retired as a player. The next season, the Sharks moved into the Shark Tank and the franchise began several seasons of up and down performances. By 2003, the franchise was struggling again. The Sharks hired Wilson as the team’s general manager, a role he has held ever since.

From Player To General Manager

Wilson’s first major decisions came in the 2003 draft. He didn’t do too well in the early rounds, but his seventh-round selection was Joe Pavelski, and one Joe Pavelski equates to a great draft.

Within his first few seasons, he’d draft stalwart defenceman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and swing a franchise-changing trade for Joe Thornton. The trio formed an elite core which resulted in over a decade of highly competitive Sharks teams. Wilson oversaw four Sharks trips to the Western Conference Final and one to the Stanley Cup Final. Sustained excellence in the NHL is rare, and Wilson’s Sharks accomplished just that.

In a “what have you done for me lately” league, Wilson’s recent mistakes have tarnished what was an extraordinary career as a hockey executive. Trades brought in Evander Kane and Erik Karlsson. Good trades? Sure. But Wilson re-signed both players and those long-term deals have proven disastrous. Added to mistakes (in hindsight) with long-term deals for Martin Jones and Vlasic, the Sharks are now in troubled times.

Unfortunately, Wilson and the Sharks brass have decided this team is close enough to competitive that it can be fixed with a ‘reset’. It can’t. In these recent seasons, his competitive nature worked against him. The denial has proven highly problematic and is likely to haunt the Sharks for years to come.

Doug Wilson Persona

Wilson would be present at virtually every home game, perched in the team’s executive box above section 219. With the media, Wilson spoke like a scholar – calm, insightful and precise – with few wasted words. Often humorous, Wilson has a renaissance quality about him. He often spoke of things he learned from Bill Walsh, the extraordinary football coach and executive. Wilson wasn’t afraid to try different things, including hiring a former baseball general manager as a Sharks scout.

In a sport known for rough and tumble, Wilson’s Hall of Fame speech was a study of grace, “you make a living by what you get, you make a life by what you give.” Even more poignant in hindsight, knowing he was dealing with major medical challenges.

What Happens Now

The Sharks’ ownership is about as distant from the media as any owner can be. The owner lives in Germany and while he does show up in San Jose, it is a fair question how he’ll go about selecting a new leader for the team’s hockey operations. What is clear is that the organization has had a bad few seasons, both on the ice and more critically, at the executive level.

Joe Will is the acting general manager, but ownership indicated there will be a wide-ranging search for a full-time replacement.

The Doug Wilson Era

Wilson’s career with the Sharks included 86 games as a player. There were 1,391 regular-season games as the team’s general manager. Adding to that, there were 174 playoff games for a total of 1,651 games. Only Patrick Marleau (1770), the league’s all-time games played leader, has more with San Jose.

For the first time in nearly two decades, the Sharks will be without the most important figure in team history. Mostly for better and recently for worse, the Sharks have had an accomplished executive leading the hockey operation. Might the team be rudderless without Wilson? It’s hard to know. But this much is clear, the team is in a challenging place and recent management failures have played a key role. Strong leadership is needed. Leadership which sees reality is equally important.

The Sharks have enormous question marks going forward. But it is worth taking the time to appreciate Wilson’s lengthy career in San Jose. He has been so much of a fixture in the team’s history, that it is difficult to imagine the organization without him. The Doug Wilson era in San Jose has ended. And it’s time to move on.

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