The NHL constantly refreshes its slate of talented players, but it takes a special character to actually become the heart and soul of a franchise. Shane Doan was that man for Arizona and now the Coyotes are retiring his number.
Because the team originated in Winnipeg, Doan is officially the first Coyotes player to have his jersey retired. Fittingly, the Coyotes will host the Jets that night, on Feb. 24. The team’s Ring of Honor is made up of Keith Tkachuk, Jeremy Roenick, Teppo Numminen, Bobby Hull, Thomas Steen and Dale Hawerchuk. The latter three never played in Arizona, only Winnipeg.
Doan also began his career in Manitoba, coming over with the Jets when they flew south to Phoenix in 1996 – just his second season in the NHL.
“It was absolutely remarkable for me,” Doan said. “For a western kid, playing my first year with Winnipeg in the Smythe Division – the division I grew up watching – was pretty special. Then moving to Arizona, I place I never dreamed of living, and be welcomed like I was, it was fun to be there from the beginning.”
The Coyotes made the playoffs that year, but were beaten in the first round by Anaheim. Post-season success would prove elusive in the desert and Doan’s only deep foray in the playoffs came in 2012, when the surprising Coyotes rode goalie Mike Smith and a veteran attack to a division title. Phoenix knocked off Chicago and Nashville in the playoffs before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champions from Los Angeles in the Western Conference final. It was the best season the team has ever had.
“That year was fun,” Doan said. “Everyone talked over and over about how we couldn’t get out of the first round. I think it had been 25 years since the Jets got out of the first round…it was getting a little ridiculous. As a player, I felt responsible. And to a man, we all thanked Mike Smith. He was incredible.”
Since then, there had always been questions from outside Arizona as to whether Doan wanted to play for a contender, to leave the franchise and all the chaos that generally surrounded the Coyotes off the ice and maybe, just maybe, win a Cup for himself, Ray Bourque-style.
“It was probably close when we traded Keith Yandle and Antoine Vermette (at the 2015 deadline). That was tough. But at the same time, not too many guys get the opportunity to play their whole career with one organization and I wasn’t going to let that go easily.”
With a laugh, Doan also pointed out that he wasn’t Bourque, a player every playoff team would have wanted at the time.
In the end, Doan was a great player on mostly bad teams. His leadership was famous and the number of young Coyotes he helped is large. He never won a Cup, but he did earn two gold medals at the World Championship for Canada, plus gold at the 2004 World Cup. In the NHL, he was rewarded with the King Clancy Trophy in 2010, which goes to a player who partners leadership with humanitarian concerns.
The neat thing about Doan’s jersey retirement is that he will be the only player ever to wear No. 19 in a Coyotes uniform. He wore the digits when he came to town with the team and now it’s off the market. Very few players can make that claim.
And in a sense, it’s very fitting. Doan and the Coyotes was just a really good fit. Yes, he was a very good player and captain. But he was also an ambassador in a market that needed one. During years of ownership turnover and tumult, in the waves of relocation talks and false-starts on arena deals, Doan was always there; he never turned his back on Arizona and he never took the easy path out. He may not be a Hall of Famer, but he certainly earned that jersey retirement and the banner will be a reminder of just how important he is to the Coyotes.
“I’ll try not to be emotional,” he said.