Shane Doan announced his retirement from the NHL on Wednesday in a letter to the Arizona Republic. At the end were five sentences that started with “thank you.” At the heart of it was this:
“[The fans] stuck by me throughout my career and the ups and downs of the Coyotes,” Doan wrote. “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.”
Yes, the fans stuck by Doan and the Coyotes. But they did it while he stuck by them and because of the type of person and player he was. It isn’t all about skill. It isn’t all about ability. It’s about loyalty and character and class too. That is what people appreciated and respected most, and that will be Doan’s legacy.
Doan, a native of Halkirk, Alberta, was selected by the original Winnipeg Jets in the first round (No. 7) of the 1995 NHL Draft. He made his NHL debut on Oct. 7, 1995, three days before his 19th birthday, then moved with the franchise to Phoenix the following year. He spent the next 20 seasons with the Phoenix (later Arizona) Coyotes, including the last 13 as captain.
He wasn’t the best player in the NHL. He wasn’t perfect either, making his share of mistakes. But he was human, humble, tough and committed.
Ups and downs? That doesn’t begin to describe the Coyotes’ saga, from packed houses and Stanley Cup Playoff runs to empty seats, losing seasons, a bankruptcy, arena issues and ownership changes.
At times, Doan grew frustrated with others. At times, he disagreed with the team’s direction. At times, he could have gone elsewhere.
That was true at the end as well. The Coyotes told Doan that they would not offer him another contract, and he reportedly drew interest from other teams. Had he signed elsewhere, no one could have blamed him. He never got the chance to play in the Stanley Cup Final, let alone hoist the Cup over his head.
But through it all he stayed.
He stayed to play 1,540 games and score 402 goals for the same franchise. He stayed to represent the Coyotes in the NHL All-Star Game twice. He stayed in a desert where he believed hockey could thrive despite the doubts of so many others.
Now he will stay in what has become his home at age 40 with his wife, Andrea, and their four children.
“I have peace,” he wrote in the Republic.
Once, in a moment of gallows humor, he compared the Coyotes’ plight to a scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” A man walks through a village banging a cowbell, telling the living to bring out their dead. Another man, about to be thrown on a cart carrying corpses, insists he’s not only alive, he’s getting better. He’s told he isn’t and will be dead soon.
“It’s kind of like that,” Doan said after reciting a couple lines in an English accent.
In the movie, the man is clubbed in the head and thrown onto the cart. In reality, Doan and the Coyotes kept fighting. Doan made the comparison in January 2012, when he was in the last year of his contract, the team’s ownership situation was uncertain and people were wondering if he would waive his no-move clause before the NHL Trade Deadline. He didn’t.
“I feel my job is for us to win here,” Doan said. “You put a lot of work in to try to get something to somewhere, and hopefully we can keep it going.”
A few months later, the Coyotes made the Western Conference Final against the Los Angeles Kings. In the crowd amid the “WhiteOut” was an Arizona kid named Auston Matthews, who had fallen in love with hockey because of the Coyotes and had a poster of Doan on his bedroom wall.
Matthews grew up to skate with Doan in the summer, become the No. 1 pick of the 2016 NHL Draft and win the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season. When the Maple Leafs visited the Coyotes on Dec. 23, Matthews took the opening faceoff of his first NHL game in his hometown against Doan, and Doan scored his 400th goal in his 1,500th game.
“He was my idol,” Matthews told NHL.com on June 20, after the Coyotes announced Doan would not return. “Then getting to know him, he’s such an unbelievable person. As good as he is on the ice, the person he is off the ice really exemplifies everything about him.
“I’m pretty sad to see it. But he gives it his all, and he’s been with that organization for 21 years, and he’s made a big impact on and off the ice.”
Thank you, Shane.