Finally: The face of the franchise is back in the fold

Shane Doan returns to Coyotes as chief hockey development officer

Welcome to the AZ Coyotes Insider newsletter. I generally publish stories four to six times per week (some of them free). By subscribing, you’ll be supporting independent, accountable journalism. Subscribe now so you won’t miss a story.

Give a gift subscription

Rick Tocchet provided me with the details of a Shane Doan story that Keith Tkachuk suggested I explore. As I thought about the main thrust of that story, I thought how perfectly it captured one aspect of Doan’s personality.

Maybe it will seem convoluted to you, but bear with me and then decide.

“Doaner sometimes liked to take long shifts, right? And I’m the next right winger up,” said Tocchet, who was Doan’s Coyotes teammate from 1997-2000. “One time, Doaner was out there too long and I got ripped off a couple of shifts.”

Instead of chewing out his younger teammate, Tocchet opted for a good-natured ribbing. It came via what Tkachuk termed “a couple of skits” in the locker room before what Doan said was a road game against the Washington Capitals.

“How do you yell at Shane Doan, right?” Tocchet said. “He’s the best guy. You want your daughter to marry him, right? He’s a great guy. So what I did the next game, I got scuba gear and I just pretended I was in a boat. You know the scuba guys when they jump off the boat and they go down? I did the whole scene for the whole team.”

The message was simple.

“When Shane Doan goes out on a shift he never comes back,” Tkachuk said, between fits of laughter. “We called him Scuba Steve because he took the longest shifts ever. The joke was that you’d hate to be the guy taking Shane Doan’s spot on the next shift. The only time you got out there was if there was a whistle.”

Doan denies all of this, of course. He says he took the ribbing out of respect for his elders, but he is outnumbered substantially in the telling of this story. Besides, when you consider Doan’s habit of sticking with something far too long, you tend to believe Tocchet. And Tkachuk. And Jeremy Roenick.

Reporters who covered Doan for any length of time knew that he was always the last one off the ice at practice. Those same reporters knew that it would likely be them, not Doan, who opted to end an interview. Rich Nairn, the Coyotes executive vice president for communications and broadcasting, knew that it was Doan, not reporters, that he would have to beg to end an interview so that everyone could go home.

“You can't be in a room without interacting with him,” said Calgary Flames GM and former Coyotes assistant GM Brad Treliving. “He recognizes people that are there that he met once, five years ago.”

The truth is, everyone who has had those interactions with Doan remembers them because they are genuine. Doan engages fully with whomever he is talking. He will disarm you with his warmth and kindness. He will surprise you with his attentiveness, and he will fascinate you with his insights and his broad knowledge base (unless he’s talking fantasy baseball at which point it’s wise to run away).

Let’s be honest. If Doan didn’t possess a willingness to stick with something well beyond what seems reasonable, we probably wouldn’t have arrived at such a meaningful moment on Monday. Three and a half years after being forced into retirement and forced out of the organization, the only guy whose number the Coyotes have ever retired returned as chief hockey development officer, a newly created position that will be a hybrid of community, business and hockey operations functions.

“I had obviously hoped and wanted for the opportunity to do this,” said Doan, who had kept quiet about that desire in public while privately pining to rejoin the franchise to which he had literally given his blood, sweat and tears. “I don’t know if I was thinking it would come right now with everything that is going on, but I was pretty excited about this opportunity to be involved and do whatever I can to help out.”

Doan spoke via Zoom call on Monday, while flanked by Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez and GM Bill Armstrong. It was a feel-good moment that this franchise desperately needed after a tumultuous offseason that featured a messy split with former GM John Chayka, a league-mandated forfeiture of draft picks, the drafting of Mitchell Miller and the attempted, then abandoned trade of captain Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

“Today is an incredible day for the organization,” Gutierrez said. “Obviously, Shane is an icon. He is beloved. He truly embodies everything that this organization has stood for and will continue to stand for: incredible class, an incredible philanthropist, and just someone that we are so proud to truly call a Coyote legend.”

The move also sent a clear message across the hockey world about this historically ridiculed franchise.

“With all the change that has gone on there, it helps when you bring in a Coyotes fixture,” said NBC hockey analyst Ed Olczyk, who was Doan’s teammate in Winnipeg. “He’s a legend in Coyotes history that is well respected in every walk, whether it’s in that community, in the local hockey world or the hockey world in general. It sends a message that they are exhausting everything that they can do to make that franchise work there. It says, ‘We’re trying to be loyal to the people who have been loyal to us, and we’re trying to bring in the best people we can to give us some direction, knowing where we were and where we want to go.’

“You’ve got to have a foundation, but it has to start with ownership and the people in power positions. If you surround yourself with people like that, listen to them and you're not insecure or threatened by them, you're going to take your organization to another level.”

While Gutierrez said that Doan will report directly to him, it is fair to assume that this position will evolve over time as the Coyotes learn how Doan can help them and Doan learns how he can help the Coyotes.

"There's a lot of different areas where he can be involved,” Armstrong said. “I envision him having a good feel of our dressing room, how he can be involved in making sure that our guys are maturing in the right way, the leadership, anything that goes on. And if there's something that we can improve inside the organization or the dressing room, he'll have direct involvement. 

“But I think it's also just anything with meetings, having him in there, his experience of going through, his knowledge of the game. I think we're innovative in the sense that we have a research and development staff as part of the hockey ops and he's going to be involved in that, always pushing the envelope to become better and looking at new ideas."

Gutierrez sees additional opportunities outside of hockey operations.

“There are a couple areas that Shane and I talked about that he got very excited about,” Gutierrez said. “First and foremost is youth hockey. We really want to create an umbrella relationship with all of the youth hockey leagues and the youth hockey rinks here that I’m not sure currently exist. So clearly, we could benefit from his knowledge and relationships and network in that space. 

“The second is hockey alumni. This is a huge place where there are retired NHL players, as well as a huge market where there are offseason homes for current NHL players. Really, we want to build that relationship with them, we want this to be an organization that has those ties. And then obviously the relationship with the league office. Shane has some really, really great experience and insight into how people do things as an organization that we can really leverage. We’re always looking at best practices. We’re constantly talking about impact, inclusion and innovation, and part of that innovation is how we go about doing our business and the business processes, and the tech-enabled services that exist out there. So Shane is going to be able to really help guide us and really give some insight into that.”

Doan offered yet another possibility, and I can tell how you it is close to his heart because I had a one-hour phone conversation with him about it this offseason.

"Something we have talked about as a group and as an organization is that it's relationships that matter and we care,” he said. “We care about the community and we want to make things better. We want to add to people's lives and as we do that I think it will benefit us as an organization.

“As Xavier said, as athletes and as sports franchises, I think you're often viewed, rightly or wrongly, as you kind of take from the community. You don't really necessarily give as much back to the community as you sometimes take. In talking with Xavier, that’s his biggest concern. He wants to improve the lives of the people that are our fans and the people that are in the community around us. That is encouraging and that's exciting and that’s something that I really got behind.”

Doan has never held a managerial title for a team, but he spent the past three years working for the league in a variety of capacities. He has worked in the situation room, he has learned the nuances of game production and league sponsorships and he has attended GM and Board of Governors meetings. He has helped organize outdoor games, All-Star Games and the draft. He helped set up the COVID-19 playoff bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto, and he has countless relationships at every level of the league, from owners and executives, to players and staff.

“When you ask if he has enough experience, 21 years playing in the league is enough for me alone,” said former Coyote Ray Whitney, who works for the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. “I know people say you don’t need that any more in the league but I say, ‘bullshit.’ The street credibility has to be there and he hasn't been out of the league very long. He waited maybe a year before he jumped back into a role with the league so he’s current with the players, he’s current with the style of the game from being with league hockey ops and he’s been in on the Board of Governors meetings and GM meetings. 

“He’s been in on everything going on with the league the last several years so I think he’s got as much credibility as anybody. It may take a little bit to learn some of the ins and outs of the team, but we’re not talking rocket science here. We're talking about a sport that he has earned his masters degree in. For whatever reason, it took awhile for the organization to get Shane in there but it’s obviously the right move and one that should have been made a long time ago.”

There are analysts around the league who have wondered if Doan was prepared to resume the type of hours required of this position after so much time away from the day-to-day grind; time spent with his family, including watching his son, Josh, play for the USHL’s Chicago Steel. Those who know him best scoff at that notion, knowing that this is exactly what Doan wanted.

“There are certainly things he will go through in this position that will be new to him, but he has seen a lot and done a lot and the thing with Shane is when he goes into a new experience, he asks a lot of questions and he digs in,” Treliving said. “I know from talking to him that he is so excited about this opportunity so he will come in hot, and he’ll dive right into the role.”

One of Doan’s perceived shortcomings is his lack of managerial experience. Doan doesn’t necessarily agree with that assessment, but former coach Dave Tippett thinks this is the perfect position to build his knowledge base and experience.

“He has been around and seen a lot more than people give him credit for, but he hasn’t been consistently on the other side, on the management side, so knowing Shane, I’m sure he will come in, take his time, get his footing and just learn the ropes,” Tippett said. “He’s a really good person and a really smart hockey guy. He’ll figure things out in a hurry; figure out where he can best help with the assets he has. He’ll make sure he is bringing real value to the franchise.”

While the hockey ops value may be a work in progress, there is no questioning the impact that Doan will have in the community, and on the team’s stakeholders.

“It gives you credibility again with the fans and when we want to grow the market and sell the game, having a face like that has a massive impact,” said Fox Sports Arizona analyst Tyson Nash, Doan’s teammate in Kamloops (WHL) and with the Coyotes. “He has been the biggest influence on Arizona hockey and he still is. When he walks around town everyone knows his face. With anything they want to get done, when you have him backing it and supporting it and leading the charge, that’s where it all starts.”

It’s not as if Doan can wave his magic wand and make things like a new arena appear out of thin air, but his mere presence in a room will have an impact because he is a Valley icon whom virtually everyone recognizes and respects.

“He’s going to battle the same uphill battles that the past people in this franchise have dealt with but because of his ability to reach different people, reach more people, and because of his relationship with the people of that city, more people will be inclined to work with Shane Doan because of what he has done for and given to the city,” former Coyotes teammate Jeremy Roenick said. “He’s going to add a bigger layer of people that are going to want to jump onboard because he’s a part of it.”

Doan isn’t playing the game any more, but his former teammates even think that the guy whom Oliver Ekman-Larsson called “Captain Coyote” will still impact the product on the ice.

“Him being there gives the guys that are on the team a little more responsibility and a little more accountability,” Roenick said. “When Shane Doan walks into the room and has conversations with these players and they look for someone to give them advice, he has been a captain, he has led teams, he has played the game at a high level and he’s done it with the ultimate grace and professionalism.

“These guys are going to have to be responsible to Shane Doan now for how they play and I think that’s something that this team has missed. The best thing that this team has done over the last 10 years is hire Rick Tocchet as a coach and now you put this guy in there, too? These players have to be more accountable for the way they play because those are two intimidating, respected people that they have to stand in front of. You better bring it for those guys.”

What they said

I couldn’t use everything from all of the people to whom I spoke for this story, so here are some additional thoughts in a quote board.

Overall reaction to the news

“Finally, about time! This is the best thing that could happen to the Coyotes organization. Doan was the face of the franchise, the guy who held everything together for so many turbulent years. I’m happy for him and for the fans.” — former Coyote Radim Vrbata

“Look, I'm not a little biased. I’m a lot biased because I have known him since he was a teenager in the NHL back in Winnipeg. I always felt Doaner would be a management type person with the way he carried himself and the respect he commanded. I didn't make the move with the team to Phoenix but I always felt he’d be a part of the Coyote family forever. He did what he did with the league and a lot of changes happened down there and for whatever reason this didn’t happen sooner, but I don’t agree that you can't go home home. It’s never too late to go home. He’s where he should be.” — Ed Olczyk

“My reaction is that everything is right in the world when it finally happens that Shane is where he belongs. It’s an organization that he has done everything for and he is a big reason, in a lot of ways, why the organization remains where it is today. I am very happy for him and his family.” — Brad Treliving

“It is certainly great to see Shane back in the game. I know that is something he has wanted for a while. It goes without saying, the love he has for the Coyotes. Hopefully, he can continue to build some stability there and get that team going the right way and become the franchise they all hope it can be.” — Dave Tippett

“The band is back together. That's what it feels like. I played with him, I lived with him when we were in junior and I grew up with him. This guy, as we all know, is the best human being you’ll ever meet. He provides leadership, he was a great hockey player, he can give advice or life help, he has answers for everything. He is the complete package and I’m just so proud that the ownership group has done the right thing. They keep hiring good people and that’s where it starts.” — Tyson Nash

“When you talk about this organization, you talk about Shane Doan. It’s nice to have him back, and I think he can help us on and off the ice. He took care of me when I first got here. You can’t really put into words what he meant to me." — Oliver Ekman-Larsson

What Doan will add to the organization

“There’s immediate name recognition from all stakeholders, whether you're a season ticket holder, a sponsor or somebody that follows the game locally. People connect Shane with the franchise. He brings credibility, he brings stability, he brings professionalism and he brings class all the things that are synonymous with Shane will become a part of how the organization is viewed. I think he will have a broad reach.” — Brad Treliving

“Corporate-wise and sponsor-wise, if you need anything done you've got the best name you could possibly have with the organization. He has the ability to impact this franchise in multiple ways on and off the ice. We’ll wait to see how they are going to use him. There will be a feel-out process for both sides as to the influence he’ll have on either side, and how much value they put in his opinion, but you’d be foolish not to listen to him for the on-ice part and you certainly wouldn't be doing yourself any justice by not using his name, personality and credibility to build relationships with fans and sponsors.” — Ray Whitney

“The NHL doesn’t hire people if you are not of a certain standard. They only hire the best. He is the best person, he’s a brilliant hockey mind and he’s a great leader. You don’t play in the league for 21 years by accident. He knows the game, he thinks the game, he thinks outside the box and he knows what it takes to have success. That's what he's going to bring to this team and on the business side of it, he’s touching all aspects of this organization. I’m just so happy for all of us who are around this every day.” —Tyson Nash

“When you are an athlete who is as committed to the community as he has been for so long, that carries a lot of weight. They trust him. In these times in sports, sometimes that’s hard to come by. Phoenix has been really lucky with some of the sports figures it has had with Shane Doan and Luis Gonzalez and Larry Fitzgerald and Kurt Warner. They have had some great people and great ambassadors there and Shane is a natural at it. Bringing him in brings trust and commitment to the city and hopefully that allows the franchise to continue to get the stability it wants.” — Dave Tippett

“Doaner can do anything because he’s smart, he has so much pizzazz, so much likability and he knows the game; the in and outs. He has been around Gary Bettman for the last two and a half years, he has seen a lot of what happens in the Players Association, and within the National Hockey League. The guy lives and breathes the game so for him it will be a very easy transition to knowing what needs to be done and how to do it. I think it's a perfect job for Shane.” — Jeremy Roenick

“One of the organizing principles that we are really promoting as an organization is this idea of Coyotes care, that we’re using the power of sports and the power of our franchise to really make a difference in the world, whether that’s for our fans, for our business partners, for our community stakeholders. It’s really about being more than just sports, more than just hockey. Shane and I, we started talking about that, we started talking about the power that sports has to inspire and to really convene, and what are we going to do with that power. Truth be told, that’s the vision that we had and it really aligned with who Shane is, it aligned with how he’s lived his life, not only on the ice, but off the ice.” — Xavier Gutierrez

Give a gift subscription

Follow Craig Morgan on Twitter: @CraigSMorgan