San Jose Sharks GM Doug Wilson Steps Down After 19 Seasons

After not being around much this season, one of the NHL’s longest-tenured general managers is stepping aside.

On Thursday, Doug Wilson announced that he is leaving his position with the San Jose Sharks, which he has held since May 13, 2003.

Wilson, 64, has been away from the club on temporary medical leave since late November. Assistant general manager Joe Will has handled day-to-day duties.

“I want to thank everyone who has reached out during my leave of absence,” Wilson said in a statement released through the team on Thursday. “While I have made great progress over the last several months, I feel it is in the best interest of the organization and myself to step down from my current duties and focus on my health and full recovery. I look forward to continuing my career in the NHL in the future.”

“Doug has definitely improved over the last couple of months, but he took the decision that he needs to concentrate on his health full time,” Sharks president Jonathan Becher told the media Thursday. “So it’s really only in the last couple days — this is late breaking more than anything else — it’s become clear that it’s his decision to step down.”

Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2021, Wilson played 16 years in the NHL. As an offensive defensemen, he put up 827 points in 1,024 games between 1977 and 1993. Drafted sixth overall by the then-Chicago Black Hawks in 1977, he won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s best defenseman in 1982, when he led all blueliners with 39 goals.

Wilson spent the last two years of his playing career as captain of the the expansion Sharks in the early 90s. After hanging up his skates, he returned as director of player personnel in 1997, then succeeded Dean Lombardi as general manager in May of 2003.

He was the NHL’s second-longest-tenured GM. Wilson was behind only David Poile, who has been with the Nashville Predators since their inception in 1997.

Though the Sharks are still looking for their first Stanley Cup, they became a perennial playoff team under Wilson’s watch. Since 2003, they have reached the postseason 14 times. They have made four trips to the Western Conference Final and made their only appearance in the Stanley Cup Final in 2016, when they fell in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins. They also won the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s best regular-season team in the 2008-09 season.

At the draft, Wilson hit a home run early with Joe Pavelski, who was taken in the seventh round in 2003. Other franchise stalwarts who were drafted and developed in the organization include Marc-Edouard Vlasic (second round, 2005), Logan Couture (first round, 2007), Tomas Hertl (first round, 2012) and Timo Meier (first round, 2015). Major trades included the acquisition of Joe Thornton from the Boston Bruins in 2005, Brent Burns from the Minnesota Wild in 2011 and Erik Karlsson from the Ottawa Senators in 2018.

As with every general manager, not every move hit pay dirt. The desire to keep the Sharks competitive meant signing veterans like Burns, Vlasic, Karlsson and Couture to long-term contract extensions, which have limited roster flexibility in other areas. Prospects and draft picks were dealt away to acquire more experienced stars. Goaltender Martin Jones was bought out of the final three years of his six-year contract last summer. And after trading for Evander Kane in 2018, then signing him to a seven-year, $49 million extension, the club terminated that contract in an unusual move in January due, to an apparent breach of terms.

That made Kane a free agent, allowing him to sign on with the Edmonton Oilers. But the NHL Players’ Association has filed a grievance against the Sharks regarding the $22.9 million that was owed to Kane over the next three years; a hearing date has yet to be set.

Despite spending to the cap and aiming to remain a contender, the Sharks are also poised to miss the playoffs for a third-straight season. But according to Will, who has now officially become interim general manager, the mandate for the new permanent GM will not involve a roster rebuild.

“Our foot is on the gas here. Our intention is to win,” Will said Thursday. “We’re a competitive team, we have the guys in the room to do it and we’re pushing forward, not to take any steps back and say it’s a whatever year plan or whatever. No, it’s to go and win and that’s what we intend on doing with the candidates who come forward is we will look at them based on that, how they come into the organization.”

Will, 57, has been with the Sharks since they entered the NHL, starting out as the club’s director of scouting before moving up to assistant GM. Along with Becher and Sharks owner Hasso Plattner, he will help conduct the search for the club’s new general manager, with a focus on external candidates.

“We don’t have a defined timeline, that is we care more about the person than exactly when it happens,” Becher said. “If it works out it takes a small number of months, that’s great. If it takes a bit longer than that, we’ll wait for the right person as opposed to say that person has to show up in a particular time.”

For now, Will is empowered to make all necessary decisions, including end-0f-season assessments on coach Bob Boughner and current Sharks players.

And while Will does not currently appear to be a front-runner for the permanent GM position, that could change as time goes on. Earlier this season, the Chicago Blackhawks went through a wide-ranging candidate search for a general manager to replace Stan Bowman, who resigned in October. On Feb. 28, the organization ultimately elected to hand the reins to their then-interim boss, Kyle Davidson.

The Sharks plan to cast a similarly wide net.

“We’re open to everything,” Will said. “Getting the best candidate, we don’t know what field they’re going to be heavy in.

“It might be a strategist. They might be somebody leveraged in player acquisition. It might be somebody, their core competency is coaching and player development.”

“So if it’s a strategist, [for example], maybe in cap and contract work, then you really need to make sure they have some really good support in the areas of player development.”

“It’s really not just the person themself, but the team and the vision, building a leadership team.”