Shane Doan is faced with the Arizona Coyotes or the Stanley Cup
When the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, I became the first member of my family to celebrate a cup victory since my grandfather and his family witnessed the Leafs hoist the cup.
That was two years before my mom was born; until 2011, I was the second generation of hockey fans to have never seen my team win a championship.
(Had I stuck with the family legacy and rooted for the Leafs, we’d be on our second generation and counting.)
That’s the dream, though — a Stanley Cup championship, and all the pride and bragging rights that come with it. The Stanley Cup works wonders to get you through the ups and downs every hockey team experiences; even when your recent trade acquisition breaks his finger the first day of practice, you still have that memory to cling to.
As a player on the ice, that pull towards Lord Stanley’s cup is magnified tenfold — so for a player like Shane Doan, two decades in the league can feel like a lifetime without ever seeing the dream become a reality.
I know; playing in the NHL itself is actually the dream. Doan and Coyotes defenseman Michael Stone both made sure to acknowledge that this February; the ability to play hockey for a living is a dream come true in itself, no matter if it means a Stanley Cup ring or not.
It’s been nineteen seasons, though — so when the Coyotes admitted it was time to rebuild, few blamed Captain Coyote for being less than thrilled.
Doan went on Arizona Sports 98.7 Wednesday afternoon, following a disappointing loss to the surging Anaheim Ducks — and for maybe the first time in recent memory, the long-time Coyotes mainstay sounded uncertain about his commitment to the team.
It started with his reactions to the way the team handled the trade deadline.
Committed to building a sturdy future for the Coyotes under solid ownership and stable financial leadership, general manager Don Maloney dealt three of the teams key players — pending UFAs Zbynek Michalek and Antoine Vermette, then alternate captain Keith Yandle — for draft picks, prospects, and rising stars. The return was unbelievable — Maloney coaxed the New York Rangers to part with Quebec native Anthony Duclair (who dazzled on a line at the World Junior Championships with Coyotes prospect Max Domi en route to a gold medal) and top-ranked defenseman John Moore, then pulled Swedish blue liner Klas Dahlbeck from the Chicago Blackhawks and USHL superstar Maxim Letunov from the St. Louis Blues. Add in two first round picks and a second rounder, and it’s already easy to picture the lethal on-ice product being shaped.
For Doan, though, it was hard to focus on the young talent being amassed; all he could see was three of his closest friends getting dealt out.
“When the summer comes, my wife and I will discuss everything and see how things are going with organization.”
For long-time Coyotes fans, this was akin to a punch in the gut; for the first time in his twenty-year career, Doan didn’t pledge his loyalty to remaining in the desert.
Moving ForwardJan 18, 2015; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Arizona Coyotes forward Shane Doan (19) prior to the game against the Winnipeg Jets at MTS Centre. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports
The on-ice product in Tuesday night’s loss to Arizona was the first bright spot Coyotes fans had seen in a while; although the team’s chemistry was still a little clunky, all the new pieces looked like they brought good things for years to come.
Despite this, though, the facts are clear — short of a miracle on ice, the Arizona Coyotes won’t compete for the Stanley Cup until the current group has their sea legs.
For Coyotes fans, this is okay. They’re a fun group to watch; Tobias Rieder is fast and unpredictable, and the Mark Arcobello – Sam Gagner duo is an unexpected gift resulting from the team’s claiming of Arcobello off waivers ten games prior. Lucas Lessio is one of the most likable skaters on the ice, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson is absolutely unreal to witness in action; add in Duclair, Domi, currently injured Mikkel Boedker and Martin Hanzal, and whomever is selected at the draft, and the Coyotes could be insanely talented moving forward.
For thirty-eight year old captain Shane Doan, though, this is almost a death sentence — although he’s got a one in twenty-nine chance of signing with the franchise that will hoist the cup, his chances are a fraction of that if he stays in Arizona.
For Doan, he’s stuck between the city that he loves — and has loved him for decades — and the dream every hockey player has had since they first step out on the ice.
For fans, it seems like a slap in the face to hear hesitation in their longtime captain’s voice when asked what he plans to do moving forward. Even as a newcomer to the team, I can’t imagine a league without Shane Doan leading the Coyotes; I’ve always imagined that Doan would one day take off his skates, change into the suit he wore to the rink, and step behind the bench — all in one fluid motion. It’s like thinking about Martin Brodeur as the assistant GM for the St. Louis Blues — it just doesn’t compute.
It’s the nature of the business; if Doan has a better chance to hoist the cup in another city, it would be unfair to expect him to remain in Arizona.
I can’t imagine him leaving and being snubbed when he tries to return to an office position; Arizona has been everything Doan, as a hockey player, could ask for in a city. He’s been given admiration, loyalty, support, and love; when you look at the situation in Toronto this season, it’s easy to see why Doan wouldn’t want to leave Phoenix behind.
For all the desert has given Doan, though, the one thing they can’t — a Stanley Cup — is arguably the most important thing a player could ever ask for. At this point in his career, it’s also something hard to guarantee he can ever get — and no matter how much you argue that it’s a business at the end of the day, the choice to taint your one-team career in a futile cup chase a la Jarome Iginla seems heartbreakingly hard. It’s tough to blame the captain for seeming upset; no matter what choice he makes, he’s giving up something special.
There is one small reprieve — should Doan choose to leave the desert and return without a championship ring, the roster being assembled could likely get his name engraved on the cup as a member of the team’s administration.
Doan wouldn’t be the first player to have an illustrious career with no championship to show for it.
Earlier this winter, veteran netminder Evgeni Nabokov retired without ever hoisting the cup; after a brief trek around the league, he returned to the San Jose Sharks to step out of the crease for good. Should the Blackhawks miss their mark this season, it’s possible that Kimmo Timonen will do the same; it’s tough, but it happens all the time.
For Doan, a continued role on the Coyotes would see him relegated to the bottom six before too much longer; as much respect as the team and the city has for the captain, he’s visibly getting older. Tough stretches of the season have seen him relegated to lower lines to conserve his energy, and that’s only going to happen with more frequency moving forward.
If there’s anything to be taken from this, though, it’s that Doan’s loyalty hasn’t changed — if it had, it’s likely he would have requested a deal at the deadline with the other veterans. The rebuild wasn’t a huge shock; the writing has been on the wall all season. The fact that Doan stayed, seeing out the season’s end, speaks volumes about his commitment to Arizona.
Should he want to head elsewhere for a bit, though, the best thing for Coyotes fans would be to support him.
After all, the sooner he gets his playoff run — should he even take this path — the sooner he’s back and ready to lead the new generation of desert dogs. Players like that — who stay with an organization not just for their careers, but for their lives — are hard to come by; if there’s anything coming in to Arizona has shown me, it’s that this is a lucky franchise indeed.
As the interview with Doan aired, it became clear just how snakebitten Arizona fans are. The immediate assumption was that something was wrong between Doan and management — and quite frankly, it’s hard to blame them. The Coyotes have a fanbase that’s been through hell and back with their team; while it’s easy to console from the perspective of an Original Six fan, native Arizonans know it’s sometimes easier to expect the worst.
With a fanbase that’s loved the guy for twenty years, though, it’s hard to even fathom Shane Doan feeling like the team has let him down; and for the first time, it may be time to place some faith in the best case scenario.
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