Knies (No. 23) welcomed his boyhood coach, Shane Doan, to the squad, saying: “Everyone’s getting 23 jerseys right now.”
On Friday, the 46-year-old Doan was officially named special advisor to general manager Brad Treliving, who received a No. 23 sweater of his own last month.
In his role, Doan will assist on all day-to-day matters of hockey operations as assigned by Treliving.
Doan will be to Treliving what Jason Spezza was to Kyle Dubas in the previous regime: lifelong rink rat and star forward not too far removed from the 82-game grind himself; has front-office aspirations; very well thought of among his peers; plus a sounding board and a conduit between the dressing room and the office.
“It’s the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Doan said Friday. “And that doesn’t come around very often.
“It was something that I couldn’t pass up.”
The Maple Leafs may feel like they’ve been wandering around the desert for 56 years, but, increasingly, they are the desert.
Drafting Arizona’s greatest hockey product (Auston Matthews) and developing what they hope to be the next impactful one (Knies) was a fine start.
Now, the organization is placing its critical tipping-point seasons in the hands of a general manager who cut his teeth with the Coyotes that Matthews grew up rooting for. And Treliving’s first official move in his new town was to hire a 1,540-game Coyotes legend.
Can Justin Bieber dream up a Kachina-Leafs inside-out Reverse Retro alternate sweater?
Before the smart, affable and respected Doan sets to work with some familiar faces, the hire strikes us as a brilliant one, both from a p.r. perspective and a keep-Papi-happy standpoint.
Remember, Treliving (rightly) identified his inherited 2022 Hart Trophy winner’s uncertain future as Priority No. 1. And it’s impossible to view Doan’s addition as anything but an asset when it comes to convincing Matthews (UFA 2024) to re-sign in Toronto at a fair, if juicy, figure that will allow management enough cap space to build a contending cast around him.
Matthews’ admiration for Doan began as a boy in Scottsdale rooting for the local NHL club, and the two have a supportive relationship that stretches back years. At 16, Matthews even had an opportunity to skate with Doan and some Coyotes:
“I enjoy and admire him,” Doan said of Matthews. “The way he’s handled himself has been incredible. We’ve got a great relationship. He comes and skates down here. He’s been skating with me since he was 16. And we’ve continued those skates, and it’s been fun. And I enjoy that, and we have a good relationship.”
So … can that relationship be leveraged to get Matthews’ signature on a contract as early as July?
“He has that right as a player to kind of go through that,” Doan said. “I’ll be involved in helping Brad and helping the organization in any way possible. And if I can help in that area, I’ll help. But at the same time, that’ll be his decision. And I’m excited about the opportunity to work with him for the next little bit.”
Doan’s connection with Knies (RFA 2025) began earlier in the player’s journey, as Doan’s son, Josh, became friends with Knies from their minor hockey days. Both are 2002-born prospects.
“(Shane) has been my coach growing up ever since I was, gosh, five or six years old,” Knies said in July at Leafs development camp. “Behind the bench, he’s always been there. He’s a big figure to me and someone I always looked up to. Having him as a big hockey influence behind me was really helpful in my young career.”
Doan will be right there, helping guide Knies as the power forward tries to establish himself as an everyday Leaf.
“I’m excited to see what he can do,” Doan said. “I’ve known him and his family, his mom and dad and his brother Phillip for a long, long time, and we’re close.
“It’s exciting to watch him play and to see what he did in the playoffs. And he’s got a long ways to go, and he’s got a lot to learn, but he’s headed in the right direction for sure.”
Don’t get it twisted. Doan and wife Andrea aren’t going apartment-hunting in Toronto solely to be a Matthews whisperer.
Since his playing days concluded, Doan has taken executive jobs with the NHL’s hockey operations office, the Coyotes front office and most recently worked as assistant GM for Hockey Canada’s gold-medal-winning squad at the world championships.
Doan is ambitious, eager to learn, and he cannot be pried away from the sport. Now that his four children are old enough to take care of themselves, he’s willing to split his time if it means he and the Maple Leafs taking a step.
“I think every player wants to be an NHL GM one day. Everyone’s always looking for that kind of that opportunity,” he said.
Much like his new boss, Doan prides himself as being a relationship guy. It’s why he and Treliving have always stayed in touched since Treliving left the Coyotes nine years ago.
That’s what brought him to Toronto.
That’s what will bring him success in Toronto — if he can connect the Leafs players, Arizona-born or not, to Treliving’s vision. And vice versa.
“I don’t care if you love the Leafs or hate the Leafs, which a lot of people do, you can’t ignore the fact that it is where hockey is so huge. And the ability to be there and everything that they’ve created and everything that they’ve done as an organization to create the Leafs is special,” Doan said.
“There comes a time when you sometimes have to do stuff that makes you grow and you have to stretch yourself.”