What’s the holdup in Coyotes signing Shane Doan?

Jun 28, 2016, 3:54 PM | Updated: Jun 29, 2016, 11:29 am
Arizona Coyotes' Shane Doan skates to the puck against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period o...
Arizona Coyotes' Shane Doan skates to the puck against the Anaheim Ducks during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, March 3, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. The Ducks defeated the Coyotes 5-1. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The NHL’s free agency period begins in less than three days, yet the most important free agent on the Coyotes’ roster is the only one they have not addressed. Captain Shane Doan’s signing was expected to be a mere formality before he became unrestricted on July 1, but in addressing the talks on Monday, general manager John Chayka offered only a vague update.

“Negotiations continue,” he said. “There are just a lot of balls in the air with our entire team; a lot of liquidity in our market. Once we get a little more clarity on where everything fits then it makes it a lot easier to get Shane in the right spot.”

Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro reported on the air more than a week ago that the Coyotes have asked Doan to take “a big pay cut,” and that the “two sides aren’t close” on a deal. Nobody would verify that for the record and some movement may have taken place after coach Dave Tippett spent a couple hours with Doan on Monday night, but something doesn’t smell right here.

Why is a mere formality taking so long? Why would it turn into a full-blown, hard-line negotiation? Why isn’t Doan simply re-upping for something close to the $4.55 million ($5.3 million cap hit) he made last season when he scored a team-high 28 goals?

The Coyotes are in the midst of a promising offseason. They were aggressive in pursuing free-agent defenseman Alex Goligoski. It paid off when they signed him during an exclusive negotiating period while the rest of the league was waiting until July 1.

They restocked their system with defensemen, addressing a pressing organizational need at the NHL Draft and perhaps landing a pair of top-four talents in the offing by taking calculated risks on Jakob Chychrun and Anthony DeAngelo.

They added to their deep pool of skilled centers by drafting Clayton Keller, they addressed all of their key restricted free agents and they even offered some progress on talks for a new arena on the east side of town where the majority of their fan base is located. Positive vibes are emanating from every corner of the organization.

It could all be lost in one fell swoop if the Coyotes mismanage the Doan negotiations.

What is the message sent to future free agents and the young players on the roster when you drag out negotiations with the single most important and popular player in the history of the franchise? What is the message to the fan base and community when you play hardball with a Valley icon?

This is PR 101.

We understand that the Coyotes are trying to put a playoff team on the ice next season. That is a laudable goal, and one their fans, players and coaches deserve after four straight years of spectatorship for the greatest postseason in professional sports. It costs money to build a winner and the Coyotes haven’t been shy about spending it, or trying to spend it, with Goligoski in the fold and defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and a scoring forward still on their summer shopping list.

Arizona has a payroll budget in mind, and it became a bit clearer when the Coyotes acquired Pavel Datsyuk’s $7.5 million cap hit from the Red Wings without having to pay any of his salary. When all the shopping is done, however, are the Coyotes really going to quibble over a couple million dollars or less in what is likely Doan’s last season in a Coyotes uniform?

If this is a case of the Coyotes asking Doan to take one for the team, someone should remind them that Doan has been taking one for the team for the past 13 years — ever since the team moved west to Glendale and he was named team captain.

Besides, how do the Coyotes justify that stance when Tippett just signed a substantial five-year extension while becoming executive vice president of hockey operations? How do they justify it when the NHL just announced expansion to Las Vegas, putting $16 million additional in each team’s pocket? How do they justify that when IceArizona bought this team for $170 million and saw its value rise to $305 million in one year when Andrew Barroway began the purchase of a majority stake? As one owner noted excitedly during that sale, “We crushed that investment!”

Maybe the Coyotes don’t think Doan is worth his prior salary. It’s fair to wonder if he can replicate that remarkable 28-goal season from a year ago. It shouldn’t be expected since he turns 40 in October, but if that is the only metric by which the Coyotes are measuring Doan’s value, they are taking a narrow-minded approach.

Contract negotiations are an ugly part of the business. Teams must hold the line to make sure their cap situation doesn’t spiral out of control due to loyalty or affection for certain players. Every once in a while, however, a player comes along that warrants special consideration.

Cardinals general manager Steve Keim was ready to move on from receiver Larry Fitzgerald a year ago, but team president Michael Bidwill stepped in to make sure a transcendent player was treated with the respect he had earned. Fitzgerald did take a pay cut, but NFL contracts are a different beast since his original money was not guaranteed and everyone, including Fitzgerald, knew a cut was coming.

Fitzgerald still probably makes more than he is worth ($11 million per season) if you simply weigh his on-field contributions. Bidwill was measuring more. He understood Fitzgerald’s place in the Valley’s fabric. He understood that Fitzgerald was more than the sum of his catches, touchdowns and downfield blocks. The Coyotes have cited the Cardinals as a model for how they should operate. This is the perfect opportunity to put it into practice.

Doan has given blood, sweat and tears to this team, this organization, this fan base and this community. He has stood by it, through thick and thin, even when he had opportunities to walk away for better money and a better opportunity to chase a Stanley Cup. In spite of this ongoing contract impasse, he was still there selling Goligoski on the merits of this organization. That, in a nutshell, tells you who Shane Doan is.

It would be a staggering misstep for the first-year hockey operations department to ignore all that intangible value and simply apply some on-ice algorithm to Doan’s worth. Get this contract done, get it done quickly and chalk it up to a momentary lapse of reason.

Doan will forgive, as he always does, and this story can end the way it should: with the face of the franchise riding poetically into the sunset with that cowboy hat he donned on the ice last season.

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