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This October marks the 22nd anniversary of Shane Doan’s first game in the NHL: Oct. 7, 1995, with the Winnipeg Jets. He was just 18 years old.
He turns 41 on Oct. 10, 2017, and between playing a total of 1,540 regular-season games for that organization, as the Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes, who became the Arizona Coyotes, who came to be owned by Andrew Barroway, which is why Shane Doan was without a contract for next season.
In a ham-fisted and dishonorable manner, Doan was informed his playing days with the Coyotes were over. “It was the owner’s decision,” said Doan back in June. “He chose that he wanted to go with the younger group, and me being around might have delayed things. Sometimes you gotta rip the band-aid off.”
Doan’s attention turned to free agency, for the first time in his career. His agent, Terry Bross, said he wanted to “see where it goes” and that it was “time for him to get a shot at the Stanley Cup,” having only made the conference finals once in his career.
There were no takers, apparently. So Shane Doan, Coyotes legend, hung up his skates on Wednesday with a letter to the fans who supported him.
Even though April 8 wasn’t announced as my last game, I knew it probably was. I felt an indescribable wave of emotion to have the support that I’ve had over the years from the fans throughout all of the uncertainty. You have always defended me and supported me. Playing in front of you has honestly been one of the greatest experiences of my life.
Every time I walked down the tunnel toward the ice in that game at home against the Minnesota Wild, it was tough but I also felt the same excitement that I did during my first game. I high-fived the fans and joked with whoever was walking next to me.
When the game ended, I remember thinking, “This is the last NHL game I’ll be on the ice looking up instead of looking down.” And even though my perspective will be different, my love for the NHL won’t change and I’ll continue to share that passion with the hockey fans in Arizona.
Thank you for loving the game with me. Thank you for the unwavering support. Thank you for fighting to keep the team here. Thank you for allowing this to be my home. And thank you for coming to spend a night with me playing hockey. It’s been incredible.
He added, in his typical humble nature: “There are a lot of players with more skill than me and a lot more ability than me that didn’t ever get the type of appreciation that I got and the type of respect that the fans gave me, and I’m so grateful for that. I can’t express how much I appreciate it.”
Which is a really great line.
It’s been a bit of a chaotic summer for those fans thanks to Barroway. The Coyotes cut ties with Doan. They traded Mike Smith, their goalie since 2011. They cut ties with Dave Tippett, their coach since 2010 and without much argument the best one they’ve had in franchise history. (Sorry, Wayne.)
But then they landed Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson for defenseman Connor Murphy and center Laurent Dauphin, a move to give Oliver Ekman-Larsson a defense partner; and center Derek Stepan and goalie Antti Raanta from the New York Rangers in exchange for defenseman Anthony DeAngelo and the seventh-overall pick in June’s draft. Then they hired Rick Tocchet in a coaching coup.
That helped ease the pain for Coyotes fans who saw their captain done wrong, but only momentarily.
Look, it’s not about bringing Doan back. He’s 41, coming off his worst season in the league. He’s an old man dragging his ass up the ice in a league, and on a team, where speed is paramount. That he couldn’t find another opportunity – or find one geographically palatable to him – isn’t a surprise either. As he sensed, it was time to go.
But after 1,540 games, he deserved to go out on his terms, and the team owed him the chance for a proper goodbye if there was an inkling that he wouldn’t be asked back.
Again: This dude has been a Coyote from the relocation through the Roenick years through the Gretzky debacle through the even larger bankruptcy debacle through roughly a decade of relocation strife. He’s been a good solider, a moral compass and one of the hardest working players to ever wear that sweater. He lent this franchise more dedication than it deserved at times. He deserved better than a random letter to the Arizona Republic in August as a goodbye.
All of this stuff to the fans should have been said on a mic inside the arena in Glendale. Instead, his final game was one where he and the fans treated it as “well, if this is it, it’s been swell” rather than the final sendoff it needed to be.
Maybe it still can happen. The Coyotes have to mend some fences and get Doan involved in the organization, and fix this.
It’s not going to be easy – Doan doesn’t exactly put the franchise over in his letter, other than their existence allowing his family to live in the Valley for 21 years. But like Daniel Alfredsson and the Ottawa Senators or Martin Brodeur with the New Jersey Devils, one hopes this is a fleeting bitterness during a professional divorce, rather than a cement wall having been built between a franchise and its stalwart. Doan, and his fans, deserve better.
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