LOS ANGELES – Shane Doan is the last Arizona Coyotes player to step off the ice after a morning skate.
Without fail every gameday of the season, Doan pushes his 39-year-old body to stay on an ice sheet as players several years his junior opt to enter the locker room, done with the workout and ready for their pre-game naps.
The reason is simple. The Coyotes have the ice for a certain amount of time every morning on a gameday, and Doan doesn’t want to waste it. He enjoys the feeling of his feet in skates. The glide he gets with each stride, the cracking sound when he whips a shot.
“I love to be out there to shoot and work on different things and do things,” Doan said in a one-on-one interview with Puck Daddy. “I understand it’s all going to end soon, not soon but at some point … for me playing in the NHL, but you’re still going to play hockey somewhere because I love to play. I’ll be playing only no one will be watching and that will be the difference. It is an unbelievable sport. It’s fun, it’s the best way to stay in shape, it’s just a fun activity and you enjoy it.”
Doan is essentially still a kid. Even though he’s closing in on 40 he still has that kind of young aura around him – even with a crooked nose and scars on his face from years of hockey battles.
At the start of his 20th NHL season there is wonder for one of the league’s foremost modern-day gladiators – questions he has some answers to and some he will learn the answers in the coming months.
Is this his last year in the NHL? Would he want to go elsewhere during this season if he feels the end is close and the team continues to falter? He’s an unrestricted free agent after this season. Will he want to return to the rebuilding Coyotes?
As he nears the end of his career, what does he think of his legacy? Is he a dirty player? Is he a hard-nosed player? How will he be remembered?
“My legacy would be hopefully they think I’m a good person and cared about my teammates and about the people I came in contact with. The game itself? That I got to play it and that I love hockey,” Doan said. “There’s somebody who loves the game and loves to play and had fun playing it. That would probably be the best thing anyone could say would be that I had fun playing it.”
Nicest guy in the league
Doan is well-known and well-liked by almost all players past and a few present. Off the ice he’s apologetic, polite and always has time for conversation.
In the bowels of Staples Center, Hockey Hall of Famer Rob Blake – now the Los Angeles Kings’ assistant GM – stopped on his way to a pre-game workout to say hi to Doan and chat with him.
During their handshake Doan erupted with a “Blakey! How ya doing?”
“He is a guy who gives time, he loves the game. He’s a veteran player but he’s like a little kid when he comes to the game,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “Great family man but he covers a lot of bases in life but that’s who he is.”
Doan makes time for everyone. A Coyotes staffer joked that they sometimes need to tell Doan to go home to be with his family, just because he loves being at the rink so much and interacting with the players, trainers and media.
Along with scoring goals and making plays, this quality helps enable longevity.
In order to play in the NHL for 20 years a guy needs to have a unique personality that helps him stay level and makes those around him want to spend time with him.
“I think you have to be a certain type of person to go through all the different things that are ups and downs,” longtime Coyotes equipment trainer Stan Wilson said. “You have to be a stable guy to start with but he also is a great person to be around. People enjoy being around him so I think that’s part of it. People want to have you around if you’re a decent guy and a good person. That helps a lot.”
Doan’s key is that he tries to stay as normal as possible.
His daily family life at home sounds like a typical dad trying to get his kids out to school before the workday.
His oldest daughter starts school at 7:30 a.m. and can drive herself. His youngest daughter goes to school in Phoenix, which he says is about 35 minutes away.
His two boys go to public school nearby so they ride their bikes.
“At about 6:30 a.m. the house is buzzing and 8:30 a.m. everybody is out of the house and then I head to practice,” Doan said. “When you get home from practice it’s after school and activities.”
Last summer, Doan was named the most popular player in the Phoenix area by an Arizona Republic online poll, beating out Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. It was an honor that was shocking partially because hockey is more of an anonymous sport in the region that football.
“Everybody is the same to him,” Wilson said. “There’s no structure to his list. Everybody is the same, everybody is here to do their jobs and work hard and he treats every the same whether you’re a rookie or a staff member or a veteran player or a coach. Everybody gets treated the same.”
Playing on the edge
For all of Doan’s skill and charity, when he takes an opponent hard into the boards, some of his on-ice integrity gets questioned.
“There are times where he is such a nice person, but when he gets mad, it’s a fierce mad,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “Those are things that as a coach you respect that competitiveness he has, that fire inside of him and will to win is pretty impressive.”
It’s that last part, which can rub some opponents the wrong way. Sometimes that fierceness leads to the types of plays that are somewhat questionable.
His hit of Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang last season is a recent example. Doan slammed Letang into the boards, giving him a concussion. He didn’t mean to injure Letang, but it’s this aggression that can lead to problems. Doan apologized profusely after the game. He did not receive any supplemental discipline by the NHL.
Doan was suspended three games for an elbow of Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn in 2012. He released a statement through the Coyotes praising Benn and not arguing the suspension and again apologizing for the injury.
“As a player I’m pretty competitive at times and want to win and will find a way to win and pretty much try to figure out a way to win,” Doan said. “If I’m dirty … I’d say there’s a competitiveness that maybe sometimes pushes the line and I never ever wanted to hurt anybody. That has never been anyone’s goal, but there’s always an element of playing the game hard and competing hard and doing that and finding a way to win those competitions and those things.”
But it’s these few plays that sometimes mar what Doan does as captain for the Coyotes. Do they cross the line? Sometimes. But ultimately they’re not as frequent as they feel. He’s a power forward and his size, strength, speed combination is part of hat has kept him in the NHL all these years.
“He’s a big, hard guy. He’s a big, physical guy and that’s what has made him a great player,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “I think a lot of those things get scrutinized a lot more now, but he’s a big, heavy, hard player and if he didn’t play that way he wouldn’t be as good a player.”
Most importantly his opponents know and understand this. It’ is how he plays, and if they had him on their team, there wouldn’t be an issue.
“When you’re on his team he’s one of the nicest guys you’ve ever met,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said. “Playing against him it doesn’t seem that way. He’s a lot like (Dustin Brown). A lot of guys around the league don’t like the way (Dustin) plays, but then if you knew him off the ice you know he’s an unbelievable guy and an unbelievable captain, kind of the same thing as Shane Doan. They both play real hard and that irritates players and it’s part of the game.
Is he still effective?
Doan’s production dropped last season to numbers he hadn’t seen over a full year in two decades. His 14 goals were his lowest full-season total since 1998-99. Same with his 36 points. He was also a minus-29.
But was this more symptomatic of the Coyotes finishing with the second-worst record in the NHL last year? Or has the natural aging process hit overdrive.
Doan is just a year removed from 23 goals in 69 games, which is pretty effective.
You can’t teach size, and he’s still a powerfully built specimen at 6-foot-1, 223 pounds.
It’s not a stretch to think he can score 20-or-more goals in the final season of his four-year $21.2 million contract.
He won’t get that much in his next deal – barring major injury he likely will still play for at minimum one more season.
But a contract year just never really brings any pressure with Doan. He knows he has a permanent home with the Coyotes, but if he decided to leave, nobody in the organization would fault him. If he asked for a trade, everyone would understand.
That’s the type of respect Doan commands at home and around the league.
“I’m not blind and naïve. I understand and see the situation for what it is and at the same time I’m internally optimistic and I’m going to always remain that way,” Doan said. “I’m not really worried too much about in the past if I had opportunities to go somewhere or do something, I chose not to and I’m really happy with my decision. I think as an organization that’s going in the right direction and hopefully things will be getting better.”
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