Shane Doan’s presence in Coyotes front office inspires hope, belief
Nothing works out for the Coyotes.
Not a sparkling new arena in Glendale or the Los Arcos project that died on the vine in Scottsdale.
Not lottery picks like Dylan Strome or Kyle Turris. Not marquee free agents like Taylor Hall or Mike Ribeiro. Not rock-solid veterans like Claude Lemieux and Tony Amonte.
Even Wayne Gretzky couldn’t inflate a sorry organization stuck in NHL quicksand. So why should anyone believe in the future of this long-forsaken franchise?
Answer: Because Shane Doan still believes.
Hence, the beauty of the Coyotes’ latest maneuver: By hiring Doan as chief hockey development officer, they have rejoined forces with one of the most popular athletes in Valley history. Someone who dedicated his professional career to the state of Arizona, remaining every bit as loyal as Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald. Someone who loves the franchise more than anyone on the planet, and has the battle scars to prove it.
They hired someone who understands the Arizona sports scene. Someone with crossover, mainstream popularity and longstanding relationships in the media. He will be a welcome guest on the radio or the evening newscast. Someone who may yet end up in the Hockey Hall of Fame based mostly on his transcendent leadership and captaincy skills.
Granted, he can no longer score goals or help a team on the ice. But Doan knows all the blind spots in the organization and all the pitfalls that come with a professional hockey team in Arizona. He can help grow this team and the perception of the organization.
The Coyotes are coming off another highly dysfunctional season that actually ended with a postseason berth. Along the way, they lost their wonderboy general manager John Chayka in a contentious divorce. They were docked draft picks for violating the NHL’s combine testing policy during the 2019-20 season. They wasted another pick on a troubled kid named Mitchell Miller, whose backstory is so unsavory the team promptly renounced their rights and cut their losses.
It was merely the latest embarrassing episode for a franchise that has dealt with bankruptcy hearings, playoff droughts, a gambling scandal and other malfeasance.
The Coyotes have also lost a good deal of firepower from last year’s underachieving roster. And nobody is sure what to expect from billionaire owner Alex Meruelo, who learned some hard lessons as a rookie sports owner. They all do.
But the team is not rudderless. They netted a highly-recommended hockey man in new GM Bill Armstrong. They have a legitimate star in goalie Darcy Kuemper. Oliver Ekman-Larsson is still around to anchor the defense. They have a solid head coach in Rick Tocchet. And now they have Doan, who will help the Coyotes feel important and familiar, helping them get their vibe right, buying time for the long journey ahead.
The upcoming season will likely be one to forget. But the hope is Doan will earn the trust of Meruelo and CEO Xavier Gutierrez, men who have only heard the legend of Captain Coyote. And with any luck, Doan will convince them to fill the franchise with real hockey people, from top to bottom, piecing together a winning franchise one person at a time.
During the Dark Ages of Coyotes hockey, Doan was more than a Valley favorite, a player who commanded as much empathy as he did respect. He was also a lighthouse in the dark, a port in the storm, a beacon of hope whenever the team hit rock bottom. Like they often do.
But as long as Doan is around, and as long as he believes in the direction of the Coyotes, so will Arizona. And once again, his gift is coming at the perfect time.
Reach Bickley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.