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Shane Doan Stares Down the Sunset

Shane Doan's career is winding down. His style of play is becoming harder and harder to find. But his legacy in Phoenix is still just beginning.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Shane Doan is a cowboy.

That, according to the people who know him, is one reason the star forward of the Coyotes has stayed in Arizona for two decades—even as the Coyotes have struggled, even as the team's continued existence in the desert has been uncertain, even as bigger market options loomed.

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Steve Reinprecht, Doan's teammate for three and a half seasons in Arizona, remembers a team Halloween party where Doan arrived on his horse wearing a cowboy hat and chaps. "I don't even think it was a costume," says Reinprecht. "I think that was just him."


"He could live his lifestyle," says Andy Murray, former Head Coach of the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues and Doan's coach for Team Canada at the 2003 and 2007 World Hockey Championships. "I don't know if that prolongs a career."

But Doan's lifestyle has allowed him to live and play the game his way: long and strong. His game is not terribly progressive: he is the bruiser players hate to see on the opposing team but love to have on their team. His face will likely forever be associated with the Coyotes. Through the good times and (mostly) bad times, Doan has been there.

Hundreds of other players have spent time with the franchise and many have left for greener pastures. Not only are the Coyotes one of the league's lowest-ranked teams in terms of attendance (which seems to put the franchise's future in the city in doubt every year) they've made it past the first round of the NHL playoffs only once in Doan's career.

He has been with the Coyotes since they arrived from Winnipeg before the 1996-97 season, his second in the NHL. But now, in his 20th season, the 39-year-old Doan's career seems like it might be fizzling out. He was placed on Injured Reserve on Sunday, and has missed eight games now with a lower body injury. (Doan has only ever missed more than 10 games in a season due to injury once.) And a young crop of players have risen up in Phoenix to produce the kind of offense Doan is no longer capable of producing. He's also in the final year of a four-year, $21.2 million contract.


This may not be the end for Shane Doan, but it is certainly worth wondering if the end is near for the traditional archetype he represents: gritty guys who play with a bit of sandpaper in their game, who bring intangibles in the dressing room and on the ice, and once seemed as fundamental to a team as snipers and workhorse goaltenders.

Doan in his element. Photo by Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports.

Doan is a fiercely competitive, physical player with a nasty edge. He is also respected as a consummate leader and professional. Sometimes these two identities can seem at odds, such as when Doan recently collided with Winnipeg Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec, putting him on IR for the foreseeable future.

After the Pavelic hit, Jets coach Paul Maurice called Doan a "pretty clean, pretty honest player," and said he didn't think the collision was intentional. But he also noted: "There is a responsibility to minimize the damage you do going into the net." And that about sums up Shane Doan.

Doan is kind of guy who would pen an article for The Player's Tribune and title it "The Right Way"—in fact, he did that earlier this month. In the article, he speaks glowingly about a teammate who smashed into him at practice in his rookie year after he had rolled his eyes at then head coach Terry Simpson. Years later, Doan would become the longest-serving captain in the NHL.

"Sometimes it's a no-brainer who you're going to name Captain," says Rick Bowness, who was an assistant coach with the Coyotes when Doan was given the captaincy in 2003. "That was certainly one of them."


If Doan's allegiance to the Coyotes has been tested having stayed with one of the worst NHL franchises throughout his entire career, you wouldn't know it. Doan is generally lauded throughout the league for his hard-nosed, old-school approach: tough as nails and respected as a leader of men, even if those qualities don't show up in a stat line after the game.

"He hurt you," says Murray. "He hurt you on the scoreboard and he hurt you with his physical game. There was quite a bit of hurt involved with Shane Doan. Whenever we tried to gain a physical advantage he was there to answer on behalf of his team."

"He's a loyal guy," says Reinprecht. "He loves the franchise and he's led that franchise from day one. It's hard to picture him on another team."

Given Doan's contributions to the Coyotes and the group of young players the franchise is banking on to legitimize them as a consistent threat, it seems likely that he'll be back in the brick red and white to provide locker room leadership for at least another season.

But the passing of the torch from Doan to youngsters Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Oliver Ekman-Larsson will be more than just symbolic: this season those three players have a combined 44 penalty minutes compared to Doan's team-leading 40 penalty minutes. Like the rest of the NHL, the Coyotes are transitioning towards a speed and skill-focused game and away from size and strength as a means to win.


Where does that leave Doan, a player known more for succeeding because of his brute strength? Doan's legacy could very well be defined by the game's shifting ideology. He was and is a player who played his own way: a that is slowly becoming obsolete.

Doan in the 2007 World Championships. Photo via EPA.

That doesn't mean he won't be remembered, despite not winning a Stanley Cup or having an impressive point total in his 20 seasons.

"He's someone to look up to in terms of how hard he plays the game and how he lays his body out during a game," says Matthew Lombardi, teammate of Doan for three seasons in Arizona and at the 2007 World Championships. "He's the strongest guy I've ever met in terms of physical strength. It's scary. You don't want to get in his way."

It was during that 2007 IIHF World Championships in Moscow that Doan was given his biggest assignment as a Captain: Murray handpicked Doan to wear the "C" for Team Canada. "Your captain needs to be an extension of the coaching staff and of the philosophy and culture you want to have," says Murray.

Doan played on a line with Lombardi and Rick Nash as Team Canada won Gold. Lombardi would lead the team in scoring and Nash would be named tournament MVP. Doan's influence did not go unnoticed, however. Murray recalls Doan's roommate throughout his time in Moscow was a 19-year old out of the University of North Dakota that many doubted should be on the team.

Doan nicknamed his young roommate "Waterboy;" whenever the team needed water Doan would order the kid to get some. Doan set the rookie in line when he was late for a team meeting because the elevators had gone out and he had to haul ass down dozens of flights of stairs. And Lombardi remembers Doan, exposing his childish side, staying behind after practice with the 19-year old, firing pucks at will.

That 19-year old? Three-time Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Toews, who many believe is the best captain in hockey today.

"I think he learned a lot from Shane that tournament," says Murray.

In a salary cap system it has become harder to justify handing out contracts to players whose impact is not immediately visible or at least justifiable through the use of analytics—that is especially true for small market teams like the Coyotes who only spend to the cap floor.

But, cheesy as it is to say, we'll never understand the true impact of Shane Doan by measuring with statistics. What we do know is that the NHL is still in Arizona, and to many who've played there, Doan is the reason. There may not be a Stanley Cup on its way to Phoenix soon, and the cowboy may be becoming obsolete, but Shane Doan doesn't seem to be in a hurry to ride off into the sunset.