How did Coyotes, Shane Doan arrive at this unhappy place?

Jan 19, 2017, 8:56 AM | Updated: 3:46 pm
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The most interesting question concerning Shane Doan’s confession that he might waive his no-move clause for a chance to play for a Stanley Cup isn’t: Will it happen? That question has a simple yes or no answer that will come by the March 1 NHL trade deadline.

The question is: Why would he do it?

That answer is far more complex.

Doan said in multiple interviews this week that this isn’t the first time he has considered the possibility of a Cup run with another team. It’s true there has been considerable interest from multiple teams for his services in the past, but Doan has never truly reciprocated that interest. Like Larry Fitzgerald, he has been an Arizona lifer; a loyal soldier who clung to the admirable and sometimes naïve belief that he could realize his championship dreams in Arizona before his career ended.

So what has changed? What is it in his voice that makes this possibility sound so much more real? How did such a perfect marriage end up on the rocks so late in the game? How did the Coyotes and Doan end up in this unhappy place?

The seeds of discontent can be traced to this summer’s prolonged contract negotiation when the Coyotes initially asked Doan to take a significant pay cut over the $4.55 million he had earned the previous season when he scored 28 goals. Doan never imagined that would happen and it opened his eyes to the possibility that the new hockey operations department — president Gary Drummond, executive vice president (and coach) Dave Tippett and newly hired GM John Chayka — was fully prepared to move on from him, despite his immeasurable contributions to the franchise and the community.

Less than a month after he signed his one-year deal and began to return to normalcy, the team bought out the contract of good friend Antoine Vermette and chose to give opportunities to young centers Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak and Laurent Dauphin. That didn’t pan out. Strome returned to juniors and Dauphin has shuttled back and forth between the AHL and NHL, with only Dvorak settling into a regular role.

The result is a roster that is nowhere close to competing for a playoff spot — the hockey operations department’s stated goal at the start of the season — and that has partially led to the waiver pick-ups of centers Peter Holland and Alex Burmistrov from two teams on the fringes of the playoff race.

Despite those struggles and Doan’s 28-goal, 2015-16 season, his role has diminished considerably. He is averaging 2:23 less in ice time and ranks eighth among Coyotes forwards at 15:13 per game. He’s getting fewer chances on the power play after notching 12 power-play goals and 17 power-play points last season and so his production is way down. He has just four goals and 13 points this season.

Toss in some dysfunction in what appears to be a fractured ownership group, and an inexperienced hockey operations department and it’s easy to explain why Doan might finally be considering the advice of former teammates like Ray Whitney, who want him to get one last taste of the Cup chase.

“I think that I’m a player that plays better when I’m emotionally invested in a game,” Doan told Burns and Gambo Wednesday on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM. “It’s a different situation now. I have to create my emotion now. The team is on the outside looking in.”

Nobody is going to blame Doan should he elect to pursue another opportunity and then find a suitable team from among the league’s handful of true Cup contenders. To the contrary, almost everyone in town will be rooting for him, but as is the case with most stories, there are at least two sides to this one.

Doan knew his role was going to diminish this season. Tippett made that clear and Doan acknowledged why it was so important. The Coyotes are building for the future so it makes sense to develop young players by putting them in situations like the power play so they can grow.

That Doan is unhappy with his current role is understandable. He is a professional athlete; a proud player who has accomplished a lot in his two NHL decades, but that doesn’t give him the right to begrudge the Coyotes for their decision. It’s the right decision. It’s about the future, and Doan won’t be a part of that future; at least not on the ice.

As far as the center position goes, the Coyotes would not have been in a position where they had to claim Holland or Burmistrov off waivers if veteran Brad Richardson hadn’t suffered a broken right tibia and fibula early in the season. If he were healthy, they’d have a center lineup of Richardson, Hanzal, Dvorak and likely Dauphin.

Could they have landed a center through a trade? Maybe, but teams aren’t just throwing away talented centers in December and January, so the Coyotes took a flier on a couple stopgaps (three if you count Josh Jooris) while Strome develops another year in juniors, Clayton Keller develops another year at Boston University and the NHL Draft potentially adds another player to the mix.

Had Arizona hung onto Vermette, it might have been able to give Dauphin another full year in Tucson, but let’s be clear: Vermette would not have made this a playoff team, so what was the sense then in keeping him around instead of developing young players?

Chayka has taken some heat for his inexperience and it is fair to question the Coyotes’ motives for hiring a 26-year-old (now 27) GM. Chayka’s top two free-agent acquisitions (he wasn’t alone in identifying them), Jamie McGinn and Alex Goligoski, have underwhelmed.

On the flip side, he engineered trades for promising prospects Jakob Chychrun, Lawson Crouse and Anthony DeAngelo — two of them by creatively using the Coyotes’ cap space. Time will tell if Chayka is up to the task of his post and concerns over his lack of experience are fair, but it is unfair to judge him so early in the game and it smacks of ageism. Again, this is the first year of the new hockey operations department. You don’t change the look and fortunes of a team in one season, and it’s not fair to pile the failures of the past hockey operations department on this one.

When he signed his one-year deal, Doan admitted that he had allowed negative thoughts to creep into his mind, but he was trying to push those aside. What he’ll have to decide now is if those negative thoughts are too great to overcome; if he needs a clean break, and if playing for a Cup now means more to him than playing for one franchise his entire career.

Doan will have the full blessing of his family no matter what he chooses. Those who know him understand that fact is vital, not just lip service, but he has not made his decision yet. He is still weighing the pros and cons, Chayka hasn’t taken any calls from, or placed any calls to other teams and Doan’s agent hasn’t explored trade options as he waits to see what his client decides. It is premature to talk about teams that might be interested in him.

The chances of Doan winning a Stanley Cup are slim. As he noted, it would have to be the perfect situation. First, he’ll have to find a willing Cup contender to take him, and then that team would have to win the Cup. There are no guarantees of either.

Doan’s Valley legacy will not suffer in the eyes of others if he chooses to leave. Doan must decide if it will be tarnished in his own eyes. He must decide if his discontent is clouding his judgment. Can he still find joy in the Coyotes locker room or has his love for this organization taken too many hits?

And when it’s all said and done, if Doan walks off the ice this spring or summer without hoisting hockey’s holy grail, will he regret prioritizing that short-term decision over the one that has defined his 21-year NHL career?

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How did Coyotes, Shane Doan arrive at this unhappy place?