No matter how uncertain the future seemed in Phoenix, Shane Doan remained committed to the Coyotes.
That’s just the kind of guy he is, according to the club’s formal general manager.
"When you think of loyal, tough, strong, leader, character, teammate, all those words come to mind when you think of Shane," said Don Maloney.
"I think it’s such a credit to who he is as a person that through thick and thin, through some very difficult times he stood up and said, ‘I’m not going anywhere. This works here. This is a great franchise. This is a great place to live. We can make it work here."’
Doan retired from the NHL on Wednesday morning, less than three months after the Coyotes decided not to offer the 40-year-old a contract for the 2017-18 season.
The Alberta native, who played his entire 21-season career with the Arizona Coyotes, is the franchise leader in games played, goals, assists, points, power-play goals and game-winning markers. He was drafted seventh overall by the Winnipeg Jets in 1995, playing one season in the Manitoba capital before the team shuffled off to the desert.
Instability has plagued the franchise with ownership and relocation troubles lingering in the background. But the Coyotes could always count on Doan, who was among the longest-serving captains in NHL history after taking over from Teppo Numminen in 2003.
Maloney said he came to view Doan as a partner in managing the franchise through turbulent times, which included bankruptcy in 2009. He offered a soothing voice in the dressing room for teammates and a recruiting hand to wary free agents. Above all, Doan chose to stay with the Coyotes through uncertainty, often for less money.
"His first thought in anything that was done — off the ice, on the ice — is how does it affect this team, how does it my teammates and then well down the line, how does it affect me? And I think that’s what you want in a captain, to be constantly thinking of team and how to make things better," said Maloney, who served as the team’s GM from 2007 to 2016 and is now a member of the Calgary Flames front office.
A two-time all star, Doan scored at least 20 goals in 13 seasons and topped 50 points 11 times with a career high of 78 points in the 2007-08 season. He won the King Clancy Memorial trophy for leadership on and off the ice in 2010 and the Mark Messier Leadership award in 2012.
Doan announced his decision to retire in an Arizona newspaper.
He recalled the excitement of his first NHL game on Oct. 7, 1995 — he had two assists — and said he "probably" knew that April 8, 2017 would be his last NHL game.
"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," Doan wrote in the Arizona Republic. "You have always defended me and supported me. Playing in front of you has honestly been one of the greatest experiences of my life."
Doan, who entered the league as a teenager, described retirement as "one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make."
Hailing from the tiny town of Halkirk, Doan ultimately grew up in sunny Arizona, building a family there. He signed a five-year deal with the club in 2007 and another four-year pact after that.
"If Shane all of a sudden jumped for greener pastures five, six, seven, eight years ago, I’m not quite sure this franchise would still be here as we sit here today," said Maloney, who believes Doan could thrive in a managerial role down the line.
It’s still uncertain where the Coyotes will play long-term with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stating in May that the club could not succeed with the current arena in Glendale.
Doan got closest to winning a Stanley Cup in 2012 when the Coyotes lost the Western Conference final to the Los Angeles Kings.
Doan never won a major NHL award and probably falls short of Hall of Fame consideration, but he brought a consistently rugged brand to hockey in Arizona with renowned leadership and a knack for the net. He even managed to pot 28 goals at age 39 before dropping off to just six goals in 74 games in what stands as his final NHL season.
Jarome Iginla was the only player to amass more goals or points from the 1995 draft class.
The Coyotes admittedly bungled his exit from the franchise.
After signing him to a one-year deal last summer, the club released a statement on June 19 noting the need to "move on" with a younger group. A few weeks later the team’s owner, Andrew Barroway, said he regretted not informing Doan of the decision himself while also reiterating the choice as the "right hockey decision."
Though no NHL job surfaced for Doan this summer as an unrestricted free agent, his services were being considered for the 2018 Canadian Olympic team — which won’t have NHL players for the first time since 1994. Team Canada general manager Sean Burke said he reached out to Doan’s representative earlier this month.
Doan represented Canada at the 2006 Olympics, also suiting up for six world championships as well as the World Cup of Hockey in 2004.