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Doug Wilson: The Best GM in the NHL?

Doug Wilson has the 12th most goals, 237, and 15th most points, 827, among defenceman in NHL history. He was the sixth pick in the 1977 draft and played 1,024 NHL games, winning the Norris Trophy in 1982, and skated in eight all-star games. He was an excellent player, and he has become one of the best General Managers in the NHL.

The San Jose Sharks hired Wilson on May 13th, 2003, and in 14 years as GM the Sharks have made the playoffs 13 times, gone to the second round nine times, the third round three times and the Cup Finals once.

The Sharks have the best record, 635-346-133, in the NHL since Wilson took over, and only Pittsburgh has played more playoff games and has more playoff wins than the Sharks since 2003/2004.

The Sharks haven’t won a Stanley Cup, but they have been the most consistent organization in the NHL under Wilson’s leadership. From the moment he took over, Wilson hasn’t been afraid to make a trade, but he has also maintained stability within the organization.

He inherited Ron Wilson as his head coach and worked with him for four seasons, before hiring Todd McLellan. McLellan was the head coach for seven years before Peter DeBoer took over. Wilson has had three head coaches in 14 years.

Roy Somner has been the AHL coach for the Sharks since 1998/1999.

Tim Burke has been the director of scouting for the Sharks since 1996. When Wilson took over, he worked closely with Burke, and since 2003 no team has produced more games played among their drafted players than the Sharks (3,123).

The Sharks draft and develop very well, but Wilson’s best asset might be his willingness to make trades, and often make big ones that benefit his organization.

DRAFTING AND TRADING

Apr 22, 2017; San Jose, CA, USA; Edmonton Oilers center Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (93) controls the puck ahead of San Jose Sharks center Joe Pavelski (8) during the second period in game six of the first round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center at San Jose. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

One month after being hired Wilson showed everyone he wasn’t afraid to trade and he would listen to his scouting staff. He made nine trades on June 20th and 21st at the 2003 draft.

His first trade was acquiring Scott Parker from Colorado for a fifth round pick (Brad Richardson).

He acquired the 16th pick for the 21st, 66th and 107th pick from Boston. The Sharks took Steve Bernier while the Bruins selected Mark Stuart, Masi Marjamaki and Byron Bitz with their picks.

He acquired the 47th pick from Calgary for the 97th, 143rd and 173rd pick. The Sharks selected Matt Carle while the only Flames pick to play in the NHL was Greg Moore (143rd and 10 GP).

His best trade came from listening to his scouts late in the draft. The Sharks acquired the 205th pick (seventh rounder) from Philly in exchange for sixth round pick in 2004. The Sharks selected Joe Pavelski.

Later that summer he acquired Nils Ekman from the Rangers for Chad Wiseman. Ekman was the Sharks’ second leading scorer in 2003/2004, as the Sharks made it to the Western Conference Finals in Wilson’s first season after missing the playoffs the previous year. Ekman scored 55+ points his first two seasons in San Jose, while Wiseman played five NHL games.

On November 14th, 2003 Wilson traded Mikka Kiprusoff to the Flames for a 2005 2nd round selection. Kiprusoff had played 46 games for the Sharks and had a .885sv%. They had Evgeni Nabokov as their starter, and Vesa Toskala as the backup, with both posting great numbers. The Flames won the trade early, no question, but the Sharks were able to draft Marc-Edouard Vlasic in 2005.

Wilson has trusted his scouting staff and has moved up in the first round numerous times.

They traded up from 28th to 22nd in 2004 and took Lukas Kaspar. They gave Dallas the 28th (Mark Fistric), 52nd (Jason Churchill) and 91st pick (Alex Edler).

In 2005 they moved up to eighth and grabbed Devon Setoguchi, and gave Atlanta the 12th (Marc Staal), 49th (Chad Denny) and 207th (Myles Stoesz) picks.

In 2006 he traded the 20th (David Fischer) and 53rd (Mathieu Carle) picks to Montreal for the 16th choice (Ty Wishart).

In 2007 he acquired the ninth pick from St. Louis and chose Logan Couture in exchange for the 13th pick (Lars Eller), 44th pick (Aaron Palushaj) and a 2008 third round pick (Ian Schultz). The Sharks had acquired the 13th and 44th picks earlier in the day from Toronto for Vesa Toskala and Mark Bell.

They also acquired the 28th pick (Nick Petrecki) from Washington for the 41st (Kevin Marshall) and 57th (Eric Mestery) selection.

In 2013 they traded the 20th (Anthony Mantha) and 58th (Tyler Bertuzzi) pick to Detroit for the 18th pick (Marco Mueller).

The Sharks didn’t always win the trades when they moved up in the draft, but listening to your pro scouts and trusting them has seen the Sharks win those deals more often than not, and they never lost badly. It also breeds trust within the organization when the scouts know their GM will listen to them.

DRAFT HISTORY…

Wilson has empowered his scouting staff and it has paid off. These players have all played 200+ NHL games.

2003
Sixth.. Milan Michalek (747 games played)
16th..Steve Bernier (637)
47th.. Matt Carle (730)
205th..Joe Pavelski (888)

2004
94th…Thomas Greiss (208)
126th…Torrey Mitchell (666)

2005
Eighth…Devin Setoguchi (516)
35th…Marc-Edouard Vlasic (893)

2006
36th..Jamie McGinn (598)

2007
Ninth…Logan Couture (582)
173rd…Nick Bonino (478)
201st… Justin Braun (529)

2008
177th… Tommy Wingels (448)
186th… Jason Demers (573)

2010
28th…Charlie Coyle (419)

2011
47th…Matt Nieto (338)

2012
17th…Tomas Hertl (328)
55th…Chris Tierney (284)

2014
27th… Nikolay Goldobin (61)
171st…Kevin Labanc (132)

2015
Ninth…Timo Meier (115)

BIG DEALS…

Wilson always seems to be involved in big moves.

His best trade occurred November 30th, 2005, when he acquired Joe Thornton for Wayne Primeau, Brad Stuart and Marco Sturm. Thornton had 33 points in 23 games with the Bruins before the deal and then scored 92 in 58 games with the Sharks to lead the NHL in scoring with 125 points.

Since the day of the trade, Thornton has scored the third most points in the NHL, with his 973 points trailing only Alex Ovechkin (1,097) and Sidney Crosby (1,088). That trade allowed the Sharks to remain a consistent top team in the NHL.

On September 12th, 2009, he acquired Dany Heatley and a fifth rounder for Milan Michalek and Jonathon Cheechoo. Heatley scored 82 and 64 points in two seasons with the Sharks, while Michalek had 33 and 60 point seasons. Cheechoo had 14 points in 61 games his first year with the Sens, but then played in the AHL for three years. He couldn’t keep up to the pace of the NHL.

At the 2011 draft, Wilson acquired Brent Burns and a second round pick (they traded it for Dominic Moore later) to Minnesota for Charlie Coyle, Devin Setoguchi and the 28th pick (Zack Phillips). Since the trade, Burns has scored the most points, 554, among NHL D-men and won the Norris Trophy last year.

He dealt Heatley to Minnesota for Martin Havlat. He felt Heatley was slowing down. Heatley did score 53 points his first year with the Wild, but then dropped to 21 and 28, although he was injured in his second year. Havlat could skate, but he couldn’t stay healthy in San Jose. He had 27 points in 39 games his first season, but in three years he never played more than 48 games.

At the 2015 draft, the Sharks acquired Martin Jones from Boston for Sean Kuraly and a first round pick in 2016 (29th, Trent Frederic). Wilson landed a consistent goaltender and was able to give up a first rounder the following year, which happened to be the year the Sharks went to the Cup Finals, so it was a very late first rounder.

He acquired Evander Kane this past February for Daniel O’Regan, a 2019 first round pick and a fourth rounder in 2020. While many in the NHL were worried about Kane’s attitude, Wilson was confident Kane would fit in behind the veteran leadership of Thornton, Burns and Pavelski.

Kane scored nine goals and 14 points down the stretch and added another four goals in nine playoff games before signing a seven-year extension. Many, me included, felt the seven years at $7 million was a bit rich for Kane, but Wilson has preached loyalty for years in San Jose and he believes if you show a player you believe in them, they will play better.

I’m curious to see how Kane does long-term in San Jose, because Wilson’s track record for acquiring players and having them flourish in San Jose is pretty long.

RE-TOOL ON THE FLY

The Sharks have never had a rebuild, instead Wilson simply re-tools on the fly. At the 2013 trade deadline, Wilson moved out three slower veterans, thinking the game was getting even quicker in the future.

He traded Douglas Murray to Pittsburgh for a second rounder in 2013 and 2014.
He dealt Martin Handzus to Chicago for a fourth round pick (Handzus played great for Chicago in their Cup run).

He moved Ryan Clowe to the Rangers for 2013 second and third round picks and a second rounder in 2014.

He then acquired Raffi Torres from Arizona for a third round selection.

The Sharks swept the Canucks in the first round and lost in game seven to the Kings in the second.

THE WRAP

Early this morning Wilson acquired Mike Hoffman, Cody Donaghy and a fifth round pick in 2020 from Ottawa for Mikkel Boedker, Julius Bergman and a sixth in 2020. Then he moved Hoffman and a seventh in 2018 to Florida for a fourth and fifth in 2018 and a second in 2019.

Essentially, he shed Boedker’s $4 million, Bergman, sixth and seventh round picks for Donaghy, a second, fourth and a fifth.

Wilson opened up $4 million in cap space and is poised to make a push for John Tavares, if he doesn’t sign with the Islanders, and Ilya Kovalchuk.

Wilson has done a great job of planning ahead during his time as GM.

Yes, the Sharks haven’t won the Stanley Cup, but you need some luck to win the Cup every year, and there is no guarantee you will win. What Wilson has done during his time as GM is ensured that the Sharks are competitive every year.

They win a lot of games. They win a lot of playoff games, and while I’m sure he won’t be satisfied until the Sharks win a Stanley Cup, when you look at their drafting, developing, trading and signing players under his watch, the Sharks have been incredibly successful.

Pittsburgh, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington were able to win the Cup, but they also had many top-three picks. Most superstars emerge from those slots.

The Sharks highest pick was sixth, in 2003, but Wilson acquired a former first overall pick in Thornton in 2005 and I won’t be surprised if he lands another one in Tavares this summer. If he doesn’t, it won’t be for lack of planning.

For my money, Wilson is one of the best, if not the best, general managers in the NHL.

Recently by Jason Gregor:

    • fasteddy

      If you look at 2005 draft to 2012 draft, (the last three players you’ve listed after 2012 haven’t played 200 games, so I stopped there), the Oil actually have more players with over 200 games….and significantly more higher end players….just saying

  • ziyan94

    He’s put all the necessary pieces together for 15 years now, underrated GM for sure. The Sharks’ failure to win a cup is solely down to on-ice execution, nobody can point the finger at Wilson.

  • Gravis82

    “His best trade came from listening to his scouts late in the draft. The Sharks acquired the 205th pick (seventh rounder) from Philly in exchange for sixth round pick in 2004. The Sharks selected Joe Pavelski.”

    Do we know for sure this move was made in order to select Pavelski?

    Sounds like he also listened to his pro scouts a lot a moved up and didnt really yield any results, except getting lucky with the Pavelski pick.

    When it comes to developing players the one unknown factors that is typically left out in these analysis of “who is the best GM’ is the unknown impact of teams development system.

    If he is one of the best GM’s then its probably because he hired the right people to develop the picks they had in the right ways, and minimized overpriced contracts.

    • Jason Gregor

      Yes. The trade was made right before the pick. Then they walked up and made the pick. The GM oversees all of this. He sets tone for the organization. He is one who doesn’t fire AHL coach. He is one who talk to all players, hires all the people and encourages them to work in unison. Not sure what you think GM does if you don’t think he oversees drafting and developing.

      • Gravis82

        How many times do teams trade around to get a late round player and have it never work out? We have no idea if Wilson just got lucky unless we know how often a GM (any GM) goes out of there way to identify a late round player outside of order, and then have that player turn into a star. Do that analysis and then you can say that one GM is better than the other at a level significantly better than chance.

        But that is almost an impossible analysis. So to convince me that Wilson is the best GM in the league, tell me if he is doing anything different on the things that really matter…namely, what he has done to change the development process in the organization that is different that what other teams are doing? And if those changes had any impact on the number of picks that turn out compared to a similar timeline prior to his arrival.

        • Arfguy

          So, you’re going to ignore that he made trades to acquire players like Thornton, Burns, and Kane, drafted players like Vlasic, Courture and Hertl? Couture and Vlasic are great players and Thornton and Burns have basically returned whatever San Jose lost 5 folds.

          If the argument is that he traded away one of the better goaltenders to play the game, you should also consider that Evgeni Nobokov had been one of the best of that era, as well. While everyone is questioning why the Oilers are signing so many back-up goaltenders, Wilson went out and got a back-up goaltender who has been one of the better starting goalies since acquisition.

          People were willing to celebrate what a great job George McPhee did with the Vegas Golden Knights, but ignore the fact that McPhee had a bonafide Hall of Famer (Ovechkin) handed to him and could not win the Cup. Doug Wilson never had that kind of good luck.

          He may not be a Cup winner, but man is he a great GM.

  • Archer

    something does not make sense – you state that the Sharks traded Kiprusoff to the Flames for a 2005 5th round selection, and later in that paragraph imply that this pick was used on Marc-Edouard Vlasic, but then in the summary for 2005 drafting you state that Vlasic was picked 35th overall – that is not a 5th round pick. So, which is it – Vlasic was acquired for the 2005 5th rounder or drafted 35th?

    • Jason Gregor

      He has been one of the biggest mover and shakers at the draft, plus he made a trade this morning. I think it was fitting. You didn’t, which is fine, but when you saw the title, you could have stopped reading if you wanted to read draft related articles. It is possible to do both.

      • OilersGM

        You could also say if he didn’t trade Kiprusoff he could’ve had a cup.
        Pouile got Subban and Forsberg in different trades, Snow fleeced Chiarelli couple of times but is no longer occupied… the bottom line is GM’s are measured by cups IMO.

  • Svart kaffe

    I’ll admit I kind of like the Sharks. At first I started paying attention to them because my gf likes them but I’ve also got a thing for well-run organisations. I can’t hate on Nashville or Tampa Bay because of that as well.

    I’m starting to think all of this might be a side effect of being an Oilers fan. I crave what I cannot have.

  • ed from edmonton

    Agree about Wilson being at the rop of the class. Putting good teams on the ice over the long term in a cap world is an accomplishment. I do recall a media pundit from SJ mentioning how little Wilson communicates his intentions. Like today’s moves it just happened.

  • RexHolez

    I don’t think he can be the best simply because I think wether you’re a player or manager, you need to win a championship to be considered the best. He’s definitely one of the better ones tho

  • OTOF2

    Crazy. After following the Oilers for so long I forgot what a competent GM can do. Today’s moves to rid the Sharks of a bad contract while simultaneously accumulating a pocket of decent picks was well done. But hey, Chia did manage to pry Reinhart from the Isles for a 16th and 33rd overall so he deserves some credit too.

  • Freddie the fog

    As far as trades and FA signings it helps alot when your a California based team. Not to many players are going to object to a trade there. And free agents will always have time to listen to a California pitch

  • The Gongshow

    This is why you don’t understand winning Jason. It’s not about making the playoffs it’s about winning cups. Sure he is a good GM but to call him the best with no cups? Come on man. I bet if you asked the Sharks if they would rather have 15 straight years of making the playoffs or 1 Stanley Cup I’m pretty sure they would pick the cup. For you to say it’s about luck is a losers attitude. Winners make their own luck.

    • OilersGM

      There is no such thing as luck, you are either good or bad. Coaching has a lot to do with winning and Todd McLellan gets out coached all the times I mean this is no news the proof is in the pudding…. he got eaten alive by Carlyle last year and it happened year after year in Jose that’s also on the GM for hiring the coach.

    • Bert Raccoon

      I can see your point but in a non-traditional market 15 years of winning may actually be way better for them. Try having a decade of darkness there and see what happens to attendance. Like Gregor said, there’s a lot of luck involved in the playoffs. They’ve given themselves a chance each year which is better than most other teams can say.

    • Bert Raccoon

      I can see your point but in a non-traditional market 15 years of winning may actually be way better for them. Try having a decade of darkness there and see what happens to attendance. They’ve given themselves a chance each year which is better than most other teams can say. … teams are either ‘good or bad’? Does that mean that every year we have 30 bad teams and only one good one in the NHL?

      • OilersGM

        No it does not mean 30 teams are bad but good teams will eventually find away to break through like Washington did this year and Jose have not found a way to do that yet but I do agree with the none traditional markets making the playoffs is good for the market.

      • Jazzy

        Been fired more times too and will likely see the door again before the 2019-20 season unless they can get further than the second round.
        Wilson makes trades where he gets the best players (ie:Thornton, Burns)
        Chia on the other hand makes trades where he gives up the best players (ie: Hall aka 2018-19 MVP) to bring in players that would have had an impact in the game some 5 years ago.
        A lot has changed in this great game since 2003, Wilson has found a way to adapt and succeed at a very elite level, unfortunately Chia has not and it’s cost the team, the fans and some of the budding players valuable time and energy over the course of this time.
        You were given McDavid in 2015, there isn’t much more to say…make it happen

  • VK63

    NHL Gm’s as a collective are a pretty pathetic lot (really). I like Poile in Nashville as my top guy as he is active and takes mighty cuts at the ball….. but that Turris trade is setting up as a mighty Casey miss.
    Of the 31 currently holding NHL GM jobs I would offer that 1/3 of them are absolutely pathetic, 1/3 are hit and miss with the top 1/3 battling for the title of “best”.
    to be fair some of them are hamstrung by budgets, poor revenue and brutal ownership and thus may have top level ability but no resources to pull off their aspirations.
    Given that Chia has the best of resources and budgets, where the Oilers are at in consideration of bonafide assets, depth and cap space… locks him into the bottom third….. with a bullet.
    Yah blew it Pete….. yah blew it.