GLENDALE, Ariz. – Shane Doan waited two long months get what he wanted all along, signing with the only NHL team he’s known.
With his rare act of loyalty, Doan may have given the Phoenix Coyotes more than he got from them.
As the NHL heads into what could be a prolonged lockout, Doan has given Phoenix a chance to maintain at least some of the momentum it gained during last year’s playoff run. He adds stability and flexibility to build on what it accomplished over the past three seasons.
“It just makes us whole again,” Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said.
The lone player left from the franchise’s Winnipeg days, Doan always wanted to sign with the Coyotes. Their seemingly never-ending ownership situation nearly mucked it up.
Doan became a free agent in July and patiently waited for the road to be cleared for former San Jose Sharks CEO Greg Jamison to buy the team. He listened to other teams, but told them all his first option was to return to Phoenix, where he spent 17 years after being taken with the seventh overall pick of the 1995 NHL draft.
When it didn’t happen, Doan had to take a leap a faith.
With the NHL players about to be locked out and Jamison still working on a renegotiated arena lease agreement with the City of Glendale, Doan pulled the trigger on Friday, signing a four-year, $21.2 million contract to keep playing for the Coyotes.
“It was enticing to hear the offers, but this came down to the job this organization has done over the last few years,” Doan said during a news conference at Jobing.com Arena. “We’re on the verge of being an elite franchise. I want to stay here and raise the banner in the building.”
Doan’s return gives them a chance.
The Coyotes have been stuck in a cycle of instability since former owner Jerry Moyes filed by bankruptcy in 2009.
Prospective owners popped up and fell away, and the team was repeatedly reported to be on its way out of the desert, a return to Winnipeg among the possibilities.
The Coyotes have been run by the league the past three seasons, limiting what the front office could do, both financially and in convincing players to come to Phoenix.
Maloney and coach Dave Tippett did a good job luring good players to the desert, putting together a hard-working team that reached the playoffs the past three seasons without an owner.
But losing Doan would have been a huge setback; if the captain didn’t see any hope, why should anyone else?
By returning, Doan conveyed his belief in the organization and that the ownership situation would eventually be settled.
Along with deferring his $2 million signing bonus, Doan has given the Coyotes the cache and cash they need to build the franchise. And with goalie Mike Smith, a breakout star last season, up for free agency after the 2012-13 season and a need to add scorers up front, Doan’s return could go a long way once the league starts up again.
“If you lose a guy like that, it makes a big impact,” Tippett said.
Doan’s return also should help the Coyotes keep some of the momentum they built during last season’s playoff run.
Starting with a late-season push into the playoffs, the Coyotes started getting attention in a crowded Phoenix sports market that had become blase about a hockey team without an owner.
The Coyotes rolled through the playoffs after their earning first division title in 33 years as an NHL franchise, knocking off Chicago to win a playoff series for the first time in 25 years. They beat Nashville to reach the Western Conference finals.
They brought Phoenix’s fans along with them on the ride, becoming the talk of the town while turning the often-quiet Westgate entertainment district—at least when the NFL’s Cardinals aren’t playing—into the place to be in April and May.
Losing Doan could have put up a big speed bump in that progress. The rugged right wing had become the face of the Coyotes, a humble, hard-working player the fans could relate to and one of the most popular athletes.
Phoenix fans had already lost one of their all-time favourite players when Suns point guard Steve Nash bolted for the rival Los Angeles Lakers during the off-season. Losing Doan as well would have been tough to take, likely eliminating a lot of the goodwill the team had built up last spring.
The lockout may do that anyway, but at least with Doan back, the Coyotes should be in decent shape once they start playing again.
“This wasn’t an ordinary negotiation,” Maloney said. “We look at Shane as a partner in helping us build a winner in Phoenix, so it was very important to us. Obviously, his value, his leadership, his commitment to this franchise is without equal.”
Doan got what he wanted after a long and so did the Coyotes. Now they get to wait some more, hoping the lockout doesn’t drag out too long.