Skip to main content

Just before the second round of the National Hockey League playoffs began, San Jose Sharks general manager Doug Wilson called Darryl Sutter, his opposite number with the Calgary Flames, to wish him good luck against the Detroit Red Wings.

He then sidestepped the nearest ladder, avoided all black cats in the immediate area and skipped along the sidewalks outside the HP Pavilion, dodging all cracks.

Actually, that last bit didn't happen. In fact, Wilson was going out of his way Wednesday to correct the impression that he may be a tad superstitious, a common trait among many hockey people. Wilson prefers to think of his routines and habits as a series of "traditions" that begin by accident and circumstance and eventually take on lives of their own.

Example: Wilson has a daily routine before home games in which he shares a pizza in his office with the two beat writers assigned to cover the Sharks, just before puck drop. Then he sits between them in the press box.

Wilson adopted the practice early in the season, right around the time San Jose went from a middling .500 team (the Sharks were a decidedly ordinary 4-6-8-2 in the first quarter of the season) to legitimate playoff contender.

It happened because he was entertaining friends in a private box in Phoenix and it was getting a little happy in there, so he excused himself to watch the game from a quieter place. It turns out, the only empty seat was between the San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Examiner, so that's where he landed, and began a "tradition" that he still follows.

There is some method to Wilson's madness, and the notion that a GM would make himself so available to the press would be considered madness in most corners of the professional sports world.

"It's something I learned from Bob Verdi," said Wilson, referring to the legendary Chicago Tribune columnist, who covered the Blackhawks during his playing days.

"With all respect to columnists and other people who are coming out and wanting to talk about our team, those guys paid their dues and they've been right here from day one. So what we do is, we order pizza before the game, just the three of us, and just sit and talk. I think they deserve that."

Wilson is a Shark through and through, with the silver and teal running through his veins almost from the moment the National Hockey League granted San Jose an expansion team.

Appointed GM last summer, after Dean Lombardi was fired, Wilson joined the Sharks as a player during training camp of their inaugural season (1991-92). He played two seasons for the Sharks and was there for the misery of their sophomore year, in which San Jose won only 11 out of 84 games and finished with 24 points (consider that the worst team in the league this year managed 58 points in 82 games).

He was there for a 13-1 thumping by Calgary in which one player, Theo Fleury, was a plus-nine for the Flames. Wilson was the Sharks' first captain, first all-star representative and played his 1,000th NHL game in a San Jose uniform.

Upon retirement, he spent four years working for the NHL players' association as co-ordinator of player relations and business development and then spent five years as the Sharks' director of professional development before assuming his current position.

That the Sharks could perform a 31-point turnabout in one season is largely the result of the influence of the two Wilsons, GM Doug and coach Ron, no relation.

One of the reasons Teemu Selanne left the Sharks last summer (turning down a $6.5-million (U.S.) option on his contract) was his desire to win a championship. Selanne had to consider: Was that more likely to happen with the Sharks, coming off a 73-point season and seemingly in a rebuilding mode, or with the Colorado Avalanche, a team that had won nine consecutive division titles and boasted a lineup that included Peter Forsberg, Joe Sakic, Rob Blake and others? Naturally, Selanne opted to go to Colorado.

The fact that the Sharks eliminated the Avs en route to qualifying for the Western Conference final represents one of the more delicious ironies of this postseason.

"I wanted to go to Colorado one more time and win in their building. I have great respect for the players and that organization, but we've had some challenges with them in the past," Wilson said.

"But this is a brand-new team and we view this as a new era. Our players talked about it -- how this is the first time this team has been together, playing this style of hockey. We play more of a speed and puck-possession style. Much like Calgary, they believe in themselves. And that's what's going to make this series exciting. I'll tell you one thing, the fans will be into it, in both buildings."

At the time of Selanne's departure, Wilson noted that he was okay with his decision, simply because he wanted players in his lineup who wanted to be in San Jose.

"It was very simple," Wilson said. "They wanted more time to think about it and we said: 'If there's any doubt, then there's no doubt.' You have to be committed to where we want to go."

Because of his work with the Sharks' minor-league affiliate, Wilson had a sense of which players might be ready to replace Selanne, most notably, Niko Dimitrakos and Jonathan Cheechoo.

He also had a sense that a player buried in the New York Rangers' system, Nils Ekman, might be a good fit in San Jose. Wilson traded Chad Wiseman to the Rangers for Ekman last August and Ekman responded by leading the team in three offensive categories, assists (33), short-handed goals (four) and plus/minus (+30).

"Two weeks ago, what happened was: Darryl and I talk to each other quite a bit and we talked before the last round started and we both laughed and said: 'Look, let's both do each other a favour and win this round and the next one, we'll have a blast,' " Wilson said.

"I think it'll be great hockey. It's two teams, where everybody works hard. There's great goaltending, great speed and it'll be fun. I think it'll be good for hockey personally, but I'm biased."

Biased and also committed to wearing that same lucky tie for, oh, another month or so -- or until the Sharks' playoff fortunes change.