GLENDALE, Ariz. — Coyotes coach Dave Tippett keeps his line combinations written on a grease board in magic marker. All of the players’ names were written in black this week at the team’s informal skates, signifying their permanence.
All except one. Shane Doan was written in red, and man, was that color choice appropriate. Had the Phoenix Coyotes lost their captain and the unquestioned face of the franchise in free agency, it would have set off a five-alarm fire within this organization and within the Valley hockey community.
“There weren’t any contingency plans,” Tippett said. “If you lose a guy like that, it makes a big impact.”
Fortunately for the Coyotes, the first of three big dominoes fell in their favor on Friday when Doan agreed to a four-year, $21.5 million deal — with a $2 million signing bonus — that will keep him in Phoenix through the 2015-2016 season.
“I dragged this thing on as long as I possibly could,” Doan said to a chorus of laughter during his press conference at Jobing.com Arena. “It kind of came down to me continuing what we started here. I didn’t like the way it finished with us losing in the conference finals, but at the same time, it gave us a little taste of what the group could do.”
Doan, the team’s captain since 2003, led Phoenix to its first conference finals appearance and its first Pacific Division title. The Coyotes lost in the Western Conference finals to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in five games. Doan finished tied for the team lead in playoff goals (five, including two game-winners) and four assists in nine games.
Doan agreed to the deal earlier this week but gave everyone the impression that it was contingent on the completion of the sale of the club to prospective owner Greg Jamison. That second domino did not fall on Friday, and general manager Don Maloney said it would not happen before a potential NHL lockout begins Saturday at midnight ET.
But if you’re reading the tea leaves, you have to believe Doan feels confident in that sale going through or he might have signed with one of his many other suitors, including the hard-charging Vancouver Canucks, who were on the short list.
“This was as far as I could push it without going crazy,” Doan said. “In talking with Mr. Jamison, you get confidence in the fact that he’s going to get it done. Everyone believes it’s going to get done.”
Maybe so, but for a franchise with this one’s 3-year-plus track record, that is one giant leap of faith. Then again, that’s exactly what you’d expect from Doan. Scour your memory banks and see if you can locate another athlete who went to such great lengths to remain with his original club, even when better offers were reportedly on the table.
“Especially in today’s sports, loyalty to an organization is sometimes not the key element,” Tippett said. “It trickles down. It’s the impact that he has on an organization that’s striving to get some sort of stability, striving to get an identity, striving to win. The loyalty and commitment he shows makes us a better organization.”
Make no mistake: Doan, 35, got a good deal. As Maloney said: “Believe me, this wasn’t a blue-plate special.”
But given the uncertainty of this franchise’s future, its history and those better offers, it’s remarkable that he waited this one out and made the choice he did.
“The process was a lot tougher than I thought it was going to be,” Doan said. “There were some generous offers. That being said, I think I made it clear right from the beginning my whole goal was to be back here.”
Doan said his wife, Andrea, and his family were enormous considerations in the process, but he received nothing but support.
“She and I have a great partnership,” he said of his wife. “Because of that, both of us had to be in this. She was more than in it.”
Maloney said Doan has agreed to defer his signing bonus to help the team with cap constraints.
“Ideally, I would have liked to have a lot more (of the payment) in this year because we have a lot of space this year, relative to our budget and the cap, but it’s a livable structure,” Maloney said.
With that space, Maloney would like to add to his forward group, likely via trades, before the season begins. But the looming NHL lockout will likely prevent any such thought for now.
It’s an ironic twist that the team the NHL has fought so hard to keep in Arizona could be harmed by the lockout the league (which also owns the Coyotes) is about to impose.
But Friday was not a day for doomsday scenarios, and just in case your mind started wandering to those dark places, Doan brought it back with those genuine, aw-shucks lines that made you fall for him so long ago.
“I guess ‘humbled’ is a good word to use when you talk to people and they’re so adamant about you staying,” Doan said of the Valley’s fans. “I want to see us raise a banner here in this building, and I want to be here to do it.