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Emotion aside, timing was right for Coyotes, Doan to part ways

The Coyotes informed Shane Doan that he won't be offered a contract, bringing to an end his 21-season stay with the franchise. But it was the right move for Arizona and could work out for Doan, too.

So, this is how it ends for Shane Doan in Arizona. Not with a deadline deal to a Stanley Cup contender or the longtime captain riding off into the sunset after one last hurrah with the Coyotes, but with ownership telling him its time that the two parties go their separate ways. It’s no doubt a tough pill to swallow for Doan, who has spent every single one of his 1,540 games with the same franchise.

Doan confirmed Monday that it was indeed a decision made by ownership. Speaking with Arizona Sports 98.7 after word came down that the Coyotes had informed Doan that he wouldn’t be offered a new contract, the 40-year-old said that it was “the owner’s decision,” and that it was made in order for the franchise to start to go with a younger group. Doan added that he was told his presence “might’ve delayed things” in Arizona, noting that the Mike Smith trade appeared to be another instance of the Coyotes “getting rid of things from the past.”

For Doan’s career in Arizona to be over in such a manner is somewhat shocking, especially for a player who has spent 21 seasons with the franchise. It’s shocking that a team as bereft of talent, star power and players who are notable and marketable to the average fan would rid themselves of a player who has inarguably been the face of the franchise for upwards of 15 years. And it’s no doubt difficult for fans to learn that one of the staples of the sporting community in Arizona has been let walk without so much as a contract offer heading his way.

Removing emotion from the equation, however, it’s evident the timing was right for everyone involved.

As much as Doan has meant to the organization, there’s no point in delaying the inevitable. Eventually, Doan was going to be gone, be it by retirement, trade or free agency. And even if Doan were to spend next season with the Coyotes, he’s not going to singlehandedly make the on-ice product better by any significant margin. Can he chip in with 15 goal and 30 points? Quite possibly, but in doing so he takes potential top-six and power play minutes from a player who could use those reps to develop, and pushing their younger players to the next level at this point is exactly what Arizona needs. 

As they get sent to enter the coming campaign, the Coyotes stand to have one of the youngest rosters in the entire league, and the time is now for a full-on youth movement. This is a team whose draft and develop process has taken five years in an era where the Toronto Maple Leafs — albeit with the help of an outstanding talent such as Auston Matthews — have done a teardown and rebuild in less than half the time. The Coyotes are well past due to start having similar on-ice successes, and, unfortunately for Doan, that means the youth really needs to be pushed and Arizona needs to start determining which players are key to their future.

In addition, Doan’s exit, however unceremonious, also allows for the torch to be passed as far as the face of the franchise, and it seems as though it will be handed straight to Oliver Ekman-Larsson, the Coyotes’ standout 25-year-old rearguard. AZ Central’s Sarah McLellan reported Monday that Ekman-Larsson was the leading candidate to wear the ‘C’ next season. And the Coyotes, if they wish to build a long-term future in Arizona, need to start developing new stars and new cornerstones for the franchise. Slapping the ‘C’ on Ekman-Larsson helps with that process, and there’s potential for it to help on ice, as well.

Giving Ekman-Larsson the captaincy points to the franchise readying itself for this next generation, one in which the defender is the driving force behind the team. He’s already the clear-cut star of the show in Arizona, and allowing him to grow as the leader of this franchise both on- and off-ice can pay dividends as the team grows around him.

But don’t take any of this to mean the decision to part ways is only good for the Coyotes. This can also be a win for Doan. Let’s face facts here: if Doan had remained in Arizona this coming season, there was little chance he was going to end up anywhere else, even post-trade deadline. For years, what has felt like several in a row at this point, Doan has consistently been one of the players most rumored to move to a Stanley Cup contender as deadline day approaches, but such a trade has never come to fruition. This past season seemed the most realistic opportunity for such a deal to happen, yet the deadline came and went with Doan remaining a Coyote.

Now, the soon-to-be 41-year-old will be allowed to look at the open market and decide what works best for him and his family. He can take a look at his options — who is interested, what his role will be and his chances of capturing the ever-elusive championship — and figure out what his next steps will be. And while retirement can’t be ruled out and Doan will reportedly have a job offer as soon as he decides to hang up his skates, it’s abundantly clear that Doan has the drive to play again next year.

“My personality and my initial response is, ‘You challenge me that way, then I’m going to want to prove you wrong,’ ” Doan told Arizona Sports 98.7. “Initially, there’s no doubt in my mind that I want to prove to them I can be effective and help.”

If Doan has his sights set on coming back, it’s clear he’s going to want to do so with a contender. He has spent 21 seasons with the Coyotes and been to the post-season nine times, with the 2011-12 run to the Western Conference final as his only trip past the first round. In the aftermath of Monday’s news, his agent said Doan would be ready for the free agent market and that it was “time for him to get a shot at the Cup.” 

And if that’s the case, where will Doan go?

5. Calgary Flames

Having lived in the desert for the past two decades, there’s little doubt Doan considers Arizona his adopted home, but the Halkirk, Alta., native might consider returning back to his home province for his last kick at the Stanley Cup. The Flames have an up-and-coming bunch with a stable of young, talented players ready to take a step forward this coming campaign. Doan wouldn’t be asked to do too much, either. He’d likely get a third-line role, could help guide some younger players such as Sam Bennett and Curtis Lazar and would be reunited with Mike Smith.

Does Calgary have a serious shot at winning the Cup, though? Probably not. The Flames are contenders, but it’d be bold to claim they’re frontrunners to win the whole thing next year. And a team in the mix isn’t likely to move Doan along at the deadline if there’s another, in-division rival that looks like a threat to capture the Cup.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins

Winners of back-to-back Stanley Cups and a team that is going to be looking for some depth additions due to salary cap restrictions. Doan would absolutely have to take a cut rate in order to land with the Penguins, but is there another team that looks as primed to win it all next year quite like Pittsburgh? Say what you will for the potential losses of Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen, the Penguins will — or should — have Kris Letang back for the playoffs next year, a healthy Matt Murray the whole way through the post-season and a Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin who aren’t coming off of a marathon season that started with the World Cup of Hockey.

Sure seems as though Doan could be a fit in a bottom-six role, too. He might not play a lot, but it might be worth it to have one last go with the modern super team. It’d be comparable to Ray Bourque giving it one last go with the Colorado Avalanche.

3. Dallas Stars

The Stars’ performance this past season was atrocious, but expect Dallas to be vastly improved in the coming campaign. Already, the Stars have set themselves up for more success by trading for and signing goaltender Ben Bishop, there’s talk of Dallas utilizing their third-overall pick to acquire a defenseman and the Stars are about to get a boost behind the bench with the hiring of Ken Hitchcock — who, it just so happens, won a Stanley Cup with Dallas back in 1998-99.

Again, it’s not the most obvious fit for a team in a somewhat difficult cap situation, but Dallas is awfully depleted on the wing when you look down their lineup. The Stars could use a winger to play bottom-six minutes next season, and Doan could fit the bill. And in the off chance the Stars stumble again next season, there’s no reason for Dallas not to ship him out.

2. Anaheim Ducks

The Ducks were two wins away from the Stanley Cup final and they’re in win-now mode. If Doan can come in cheap, find a fit on the bottom two lines and put up anything close to 10 goals and 30 points, he’d seemingly be a perfect fit in Anaheim. He could even slot in as a part-time player, if he’d be willing to do so, as the likes of Logan Shaw and Nic Kerdiles get adjusted to the big league.

There’s also some added bonuses. First, if he really wanted to stick it to the Coyotes, the Ducks are one of Arizona’s divisional rivals. That also means two guaranteed trips back home during the season, and it’s not as if he’d be all that far away from home for the duration of the season. Anaheim is less than a two-hour flight from Phoenix.

1. Edmonton Oilers

Another trip back to Alberta for Doan, but one that would give him the opportunity to be part of arguably the most talented young roster in the league. Connor McDavid alone makes the Oilers a Cup contender next season, but when you add Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Oscar Klefbom and Cam Talbot to the equation, there’s great potential for Edmonton to make a deep Cup run next season. Doan’s easiest ride to finally hoisting the sport’s greatest prize might be in Edmonton.

As it would be on other Cup contenders, Doan’s role would be limited and he’d likely play fourth-line minutes. But he can still be effective, even moving up the lineup to play a third-line role if needed. Doan isn’t going to be a 30-goal guy again, but he’s also likely to pop home more than the six he registered in 2016-17. That would make him a decent addition to the group.

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