Sharks

Doug Wilson fondly remembers 'great choice' to join expansion Sharks

Doug Wilson fondly remembers 'great choice' to join expansion Sharks

After 24 years, the wait finally is over. Sharks general manager Doug Wilson will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The deserved recognition is long overdue, though Wilson himself didn't see it coming.

"Very humbling and very unexpected," Wilson told Sharks play-by-play broadcaster Randy Hahn. "Just to be in consideration with these types of people and this type of award or selection or whatever ... we're still processing it. 

"The very first thing that flashed through my mind was all the people ... [from] my entire life and journey, you think about all those people during this time. And getting calls and texts from them right now, it makes us realize how fortunate we are to do something we love for as long as we have with as many amazing people as there are in our game."

Wilson's induction is solely for his playing career. Long before he assumed his current position with San Jose, he established himself as one of the top defensemen in the NHL throughout a decorated career, the majority of which was spent with the Chicago Blackhawks. After the Blackhawks selected him with the No. 6 overall pick in the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft, Wilson would go on to spend his first 14 seasons with the franchise, being named to seven All-Star games and winning the Norris Trophy in 1981-82.

Following the conclusion of the 1990-91 season, Wilson's tenure with the Blackhawks came to an end. Though he had multiple offers on the table, he ultimately opted to take a leap into the great unknown -- joining a burgeoning expansion franchise located in the heart of Silicon Valley. The Sharks traded for him prior to their inaugural 1991-92 season and he was named the first captain and All-Star in franchise history. He spent the final two seasons of his playing career in San Jose, totaling 48 points (12 goals, 36 assists) across 86 games.

"What was amazing about that decision was the opportunity to be on the ground floor of something brand new, and to be like a pioneer and go to the beautiful Cow Palace," Wilson said with a chuckle. "But it was a really challenging, incredible opportunity. Easy for me to make that decision. I had the ability to choose between four or five other teams during that timeframe, but Mr. [George] Gund, in particular, his love for the game. 

"What was really difficult was my kids were seven, five, three and one. So my wife had to go from Chicago -- where she was born, had her mother and family and support there -- to a place she had never been, and here we are going on 20-day road trips and she knew nobody. So, she's the Hall of Famer in our family, to be able to do that, support that whole journey. But it was a great choice coming out to San Jose at that time."

A great choice at the time has only been validated since. After Wilson hung up his skates following the 1992-93 season, he remained around the game, working in player development and with the Players Association. He was named GM of the Sharks prior to the start of the 2003-04 season, and his 17-year tenure (and counting) in that position has been largely successful.

Since Wilson was named GM, no NHL team has won more regular-season games (710) or accumulated more standings points (1,567) than San Jose. The Sharks have qualified for the playoffs 15 times with Wilson at the helm, and their 30 Stanley Cup Playoff rounds over that span are tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the most in the league.

[RELATED: Looking back at Sharks' top five playoff overtime moments]

Of course, there's one glaring void on Wilson's long list of accomplishments: a Stanley Cup. Despite the Sharks' vast postseason experience, they've yet to end up on top. With his Hall-of-Fame playing career now well behind him, that failure serves as daily motivation.

"It drives you every day," Wilson explained. "You want to compete, you want to put the best team on the ice every year. We have four Stanley Cups in our family. Unfortunately, my brother has them all. But it's that journey for that. When you see a player like Joe Thornton ... that's what drives you. The want and willingness to compete. And that's why it's so important to have owners like we've had and like we have in Mr. [Hasso] Plattner, who's committed to that. 

"When you miss the playoffs, it hurts and it runs deep. Everybody in our organization understands where we want to get back to, but that is the driving force in this business. You've got to be prepared from day one of training camp and as the year progresses, grow as a team and get better. But there's no doubt that's what drives all of us in this game."

Wilson rightfully will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame for his standout playing career. If he and the Sharks ever are able to get that gigantic monkey off their backs, he might have a chance as an executive, too.

NHL rumors: Sharks' Joe Thornton could play in Switzerland before season

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USATSI

NHL rumors: Sharks' Joe Thornton could play in Switzerland before season

The Sharks' 2019-20 season came to an end on March 11, and the 2020-21 NHL season might not start until December. So what are the players not participating in the NHL restart to do during that six-month hiatus?

Joe Thornton might play hockey in Switzerland. Really. Seriously.

Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman first reported Friday that the 22-year NHL veteran could take advantage of a new clause implemented by the NHL and NHLPA.

"Every August, [Thornton] goes to Switzerland," Friedman said on "Hockey Night In Canada" on Saturday. "Now we know the Sharks won't be playing until December and the NHL and the NHLPA have allowed players to sign overseas with out-clauses to come back then. One of the storylines to watch in the summer, over the next month, does Joe Thornton sign overseas in Switzerland to play and be ready and in better shape, even to return to the NHL for his 23rd season, whenever it begins."

The Athletic's Kevin Kurz confirmed Saturday the possibility of Thornton playing in Switzerland until the 2020-21 season begins.

Thornton is an unrestricted free agent, and has made it clear he wants to play in the NHL for a few more years. Lacing up his skates in Switzerland could be a good way for the 41-year-old center to stay in shape.

The Sharks finished the 2019-20 season with the worst record in the Western Conference and have several restricted and unrestricted free agents they will try to re-sign. General manager Doug Wilson and the Sharks front office have just under $15 million in salary cap space, according to CapFriendly.com.

It's unclear at this point if the Sharks plan to bring Thornton back for a 16th season with the franchise, but captain Logan Couture told NBC Sports California's Brodie Brazil in March that he hopes the stoppage caused by the coronavirus pandemic will allow Thornton to return for another season.

[RELATED: Ex-Sharks to root for in NHL restart]

“I look at this selfishly for Jumbo, hoping that he does come back with us next year," Couture told Brazil. “You know it saves an extra 12 games on those legs and that body of wear and tear, I know he’s gonna get a little bit older, but I think saving some time on that body will help us if he does come back with the Sharks, which I know we’re all hoping that he does.”

Thornton's future with the Sharks is unclear at the moment, but it looks like he'll be skating around an ice rink in Switzerland soon.

Sharks' Evander Kane felt like he couldn't be himself while with Jets

Sharks' Evander Kane felt like he couldn't be himself while with Jets

Sharks winger Evander Kane has been one of the most outspoken individuals in recent months in discussing the systemic racism that has plagued not only the country, but specifically the sport he has played his entire life. 

He recently was named co-head of the newly-formed Hockey Diversity Alliance, whose mission is to "eradicate racism and intolerance in hockey," and appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area's "Race in America: A Candid Conversation," in which he called for athletes to use their platforms for the greater good and not "stick to sports."

In a league that has extremely little minority representation, Kane is one of the relatively few current NHL players who can directly speak to the prevalence of systemic racism within the sport of hockey. As he explained on a recent episode of the NHL's "Soul on Ice" podcast with Kwame Damon Mason, he was exposed to it from the very beginning.

"I think it's engrained in you at a really young age," Kane told Mason. "Hockey is such a team sport, and you learn that when you first put your skates on and are a member of your first team. It's all about the team first, and those types of things are preached. And that's one of the great parts about hockey, is it is a team sport, and you understand that's what you sign up for.

"At the same time, the messaging -- especially in Canada -- that goes along with that is kind of conforming to what everybody else is doing. Individuality and personality is looked at -- especially as a minority player -- in a negative light. It's looked at as an issue. There's some sort of internal, maybe subconscious bias that not only players have, but parents, coaches, etc., and it's unfortunate."

Kane broke into the NHL with the Atlanta Thrashers after being selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 Entry Draft. But when the Thrashers were moved to Winnipeg and became the Jets in his third NHL season, he encountered an environment similar to the one he described.

"I came into the league with a lot of personality," Kane continued. "Always been a great teammate coming through Junior and so on and so forth. I get to Atlanta, things are fine, things are good, I have my first couple of years in the NHL. And then we get to Winnipeg and it's crazy to me, because for the first time, I felt like I couldn't be myself. I became paranoid with everything I said or did, and really to me, it kind of pushed me into a corner where I felt I couldn't do or say what I wanted to do as a grown man at that point."

[RELATED: Kane discusses NHL's 'Hockey is for Everyone' movement]

Kane was traded from Winnipeg to the Buffalo Sabres in 2015, and -- almost exactly three years later -- was traded from Buffalo to San Jose. Ultimately, he ended up in a situation where he doesn't feel his individuality is restricted or seen as a negative.

"Now, I've definitely grown out of that -- that's expired," Kane added. "And I'm part of an organization and group of guys that really push those individual qualities and the uniqueness of individuals. And I think you look at any team, any great team, any team that has won the Cup -- you look at St. Louis last year -- I'm sure that they weren't 20 of the exact same people. They had different personalities, different players, different skillsets that came together as a team to make themselves great. And I think that's how you build great teams."

The Sharks clearly must improve on the ice to be considered a great team again, but due to the presence of players like Kane and others, it would appear they have one of the necessary ingredients -- in his estimation -- to do so.