Wilson was drafted by Chicago in 1977 and made the Hawks' starting lineup in his first training camp as an 18-year-old. A fluid skater with one of the best shots in the league, he joined the blue line during Bobby Orr's brief final year in the NHL. Like Orr, Wilson was also a scoring threat, though to a lesser degree, of course. In his fifth season in the league, he was the most dominant
defenseman in the game. He scored an incredible 39 goals, was selected to the First All-Star Team and won the Norris Trophy to confirm what everyone already knew. He averaged nearly a point a game, was rock solid in his own end of the rink and was a natural leader on and off the ice. In the playoffs, the team made it as far as the semifinals before losing to Vancouver in five games.
Early in the 1987-88 season, Wilson suffered a debilitating shoulder injury that required extensive surgery. At one point, doctors were so shocked by the accumulated damage to the muscle they wondered if he would ever play again. He missed the rest of that season and part of the next, but after months of rehabilitation he recovered fully and played his best hockey in years.
As he got to be a veteran in the league, he became more interested in the business of the game. After 1985 he was one of the vice-presidents of the NHL Players' Association, and when President Bryan Trottier joined the Islanders' executive in 1992, Wilson was named the NHLPA's new president at a critical time in league history. The collective bargaining agreement expired the next spring, and the fall of 1993 saw the owners lock the players out until a resolution of the contract had been reached. Meanwhile, Wayne Gretzky organized what became a hugely popular tour of NHL players throughout Europe called the Ninety-Nine All-Stars and Wilson joined the team as their coach. It was a symbolic gesture of support for all the players who weren't skating but biding their time until an agreement was reached.
After 14 years with Chicago, Wilson was traded to the expansion San Jose Sharks in 1991, a move he looked forward to as a time to teach young players and enjoy the game in a non-hockey market. After two part-time years on defense, he retired and moved into the front office with the Sharks. His number 7 was retired by the Ottawa 67s in 1998. During his 1,000 game NHL career, Wilson made it as far as the Stanley Cup semifinals on four occasions: 1982, 1985, 1989 and 1990. In 1985 the Hawks were hammered by the Oilers, who scored 44 goals in the six-game series; in 1989 they lost to Calgary in five games; and in 1990 Edmonton again eliminated Chicago in six, though the scores were much closer. The Sharks failed to qualify for the playoffs during Wilson's two seasons there.
In the spring of 2003 Doug Wilson was named general manager of the San Jose Sharks.