GLENDALE, Ariz. - Shane Doan was one of the NHL's most coveted free agents this off-season, garnering attention from nearly half the league.
Doan listened to all the offers, out of obligation to the free-agency process, himself, his family. There were some pretty good ones, too.
But as he spoke with each of the teams interested in him, Doan made one thing clear: His top priority was to remain with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Doan got his wish Friday, signing a four-year, US$21.2 million contract with the Coyotes, a two-months-in-the-making deal that could keep one of the Phoenix area's most popular athletes in the desert until the end of his career.
"I'm glad to get it over with and get the deal done," Doan said from Jobing.Com Arena. "It's a deal that's been mostly done for a little while, but I wanted to wait a little while to see what happens."
It was a long wait for Doan.
The teams captain had hoped to sign with Phoenix before free agency began on July 15, but the uncertain ownership—a situation that has dragged on for more than three years—kept him from pulling the trigger.
Once the free-agency period began, Doan listened to other teams, a fallback in case the ownership saga continued to drag on. Despite some lucrative offers, Doan stayed patient, believing all along that a deal to sell the team to owner-in-waiting Greg Jamison would be finalized.
The deal still hasn't been completed; Jamison is in negotiations with the City of Glendale to restructure an arena lease agreement and has yet to buy the Coyotes from the NHL, which has operated the team since its former owner filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009.
But with the NHL's current collective bargaining agreement about to expire and the players on the verge of a lockout, Doan felt like he had to make a decision.
Believing Jamison would close with the city and the league and keep the team in Phoenix, Doan signed with the Coyotes, a deal agreed upon in principle long before it was signed.
"As we went along, you kept thinking it was going to happen next week and I don't know how many times we heard in two more weeks it'll be done. Hopefully, in two weeks, it's done," Doan said with a chuckle. "At the same time, it did come down to a faith kind of a step and some hope, as well as this is the only organization I've been with. This is where I've been, this is where I've always wanted to be."
The lone remaining player from the Coyotes' Winnipeg days, Doan is the NHL's active leader in games played with one team, lacing up 1,198 times since being drafted with the seventh overall pick of the 1995 draft.
He has been the face of the franchise pretty much since it arrived in the desert in 1996 and has been one of the most popular athletes to play in the Phoenix area, a humble, give-it-all-you got player that fans can relate to.
Phoenix had already lost one popular athlete when Suns point guard Steve Nash left for the Los Angeles Lakers and the thought of Doan leaving left many fans frustrated.
Doan felt humbled by fans who expressed their appreciation for him—not to mention demand he stay—and rewarded them and their favourite franchise with an act of allegiance that's sure to make him even more popular.
"Especially in sports today, such a big business we deal with in all sports, loyalty to an organization is sometimes not the key element," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "You look at the loyalty Shane has shown to this organization, it trickles down. It's the impact he has of an organization that's striving to get some stability, striving to get an identity, striving to win. The loyalty and commitment he shows makes us a better organization."
Doan has been doing it for a long time.
A bruising right wing with deft skills for a big man, Doan has scored 20 goals 11 times and is first in franchise history with 59 game-winning goals.
The two-time All-Star proved to still be a force on the ice last season at 35, scoring 22 goals and adding 28 assists to finish third on the team in scoring. He also notched his first career hat trick and 300th career goal while helping the Coyotes make a late-season push into the playoffs.
The 17-year veteran had five goals and four assists in 16 playoff games, helping the Coyotes win their first NHL division title and reach the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history.
More than his on-ice contributions, it's Doan's leadership that sets him apart.
Despite his hard-checking style of play, Doan is one of the NHL's most respected players due to his hard-working approach and humility. He's considered one of the NHL's best captains—he has worn the Coyotes "C'' since 2003-04—and was awarded the Mark Messier Leadership Award last season for his contributions on and off the ice.
"This wasn't an ordinary negotiation," Coyotes general manager Don Maloney said. "We look at Shane as a partner in helping us build a winner in Phoenix, so it was very important to us. Obviously, his value and his leadership and his commitment to this franchise is without equal, so we're thrilled to have him."
So is Doan. After a wait that went on much longer than he anticipated, he signed with the one team he wanted all along.
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