An interesting tidbit lost in the free agent frenzy? With the departure of Daniel Alfredsson from the Ottawa Senators, our own Captain Shane Doan is the longest tenured Captain (always capital “C” for Doaner) in the NHL.
Adding to the panache of Doaner’s new status is that, like Alfredsson, he had the chance to bail out on his team last year. Shane had a goodly number of legitimate reasons to move to more stable and lucrative pastures.
Lead By Example
Ownership issues last September were still shaky, the Jamison deal still hadn’t closed despite a referendum being defeated during the summer.
Treachery was still in the air after Suns leader Steve Nash left for the hated Lakers in July. Some local wags were encouraging Shane to go.
Shane, instead, took a leap of faith and accepted shorter money than he could have gotten elsewhere for his new contract — for the second time. His prior contract was also signed for less salary money than he could have gotten elsewhere, having been left with the impression “his” money was needed to hire some scoring firepower for his team.
We shouldn’t forget the added uncertainty of an impending lockout at the same time. Shane said:
“It did come down to faith and some hope. This is where I’ve been. This is where I always wanted to be.”
At the press conference for Shane’s signing, Coach Tippett said:
“Especially in today’s sports, loyalty to an organization is sometimes not the key element. It trickles down. It’s the impact that he has on an organization that’s striving to get some sort of stability, striving to get an identity, striving to win. The loyalty and commitment he shows makes us a better organization.”
Fast Forward Eight Months
The ownership situation, incredibly, wasn’t much different eight months later. A sense of betrayal was still in the air over the Jamison deal not making the deadline in January with fingers pointed in a lot of different directions. Very few people, I’m not one of them, know the true story about the failure and for now it’s not important. The Coyotes company line is to deny the continued uncertainty had nothing to do with a poor performance on the ice for the shortened season, nobody believes it. Really, nobody.
In early May, Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney signed a long term contract extension with the NHL instead of a “real” owner. The ownership saga was still very much unresolved, although signs were strongly pointing to a deal being consummated with the Renaissance group. Even a diehard cynic would recognize Don’s signing as another leap of faith in the Doaner mold. At the time, NHL capo Bill Daly said:
“Don has done an outstanding job managing his team and building a competitive roster that has produced on the ice, even given less than ideal circumstances off the ice. The NHL remains committed to securing the Coyotes’ future in Glendale under new ownership, and we believe Don’s long-term agreement evidences that he is equally committed.”
More important pieces of the puzzle fell into place once Don signed. Associate coach Jim Playfair and goalie whisperer Sean Burke followed with Assistant GM Brad Treliving not far behind. All three guys are important to the fabric of the Coyotes, but lots of us were holding our breaths waiting for an iconic domino to fall.
That domino fell on June 21 when Dave Tippett agreed to a new deal. The humidity from the relieved exhalations actually lowered the dew point in the Valley 16.3 degrees that morning.
It’s More Than The Weather
By now, you have the idea what’s going on here with the Coyotes, right? In my opinion it’s not normal, maybe it’s the “us against them” attitude that comes from years of adversity and working hard to make an impact with limited resources. Maybe it’s just a team philosophy that’s more difficult to put a finger on than “Just Win, Baby” but is a lot more valuable. It’s loyalty.
Tippett summed it up talking to Craig Morgan (click here):
“We’ve preached loyalty and commitment to our players for four years and tried to get people to buy in under tough circumstances. It would be tough to say that on the one hand and then jump ship when you get the opportunity yourself. That’s not the way you want to see things done.”
Two weeks later Mike Smith signed, before anything had been approved by the City of Glendale and with the team still in a state of uncertainty. Again, Smitty summing it up for Craig Morgan (click here):
“After playing in the World (Championships), I had a strong belief I could play without Burkie, but he grew me into that player, and I really believe he has helped my game. Working with a guy like that carried a lot of weight in my decision.”
“You know how I feel about Tip. I really do believe in how he coaches the game and what he believes in. He gets the most out of his players. I play for the best coach in the league, and I think we can draw some other players, some other free agents here because of that.”
And then, on Tuesday, July 2, we once again were able to exhale when the Glendale City Council approved the arena deal.
Lo and behold, Smith was right about the free agent thing. After years of moping around on “free agent frenzy day”, Coyotes fans finally participated in the buzz with Ribeiro being signed. Why? Don had this to say to Sarah McLellan (click here):
“There wasn’t a free agent or pending free agent in the marketplace that didn’t call us and want to talk about coming to Arizona to play hockey, and that’s the one thing that I was really encouraged by. Normally (Assistant General Manager Brad Treliving) and I are beating the phones and begging, ‘Will you please come and take a leap of faith?’ That gets a little old after a while. This was such a totally different experience.”
It was a different experience for us, too, Don.
But Wait, There’s More
There’s too many names to mention keeping the Coyotes running and the arena open. Put yourself in their shoes, some of these people have been around for a LONG time despite the ups and downs of the ownership mess. Most of us were stressed because it looked like we wouldn’t have an NHL team to watch. These people were wondering if their jobs would exist from one day to the next.
It’s the old joke “The difference between involvement and commitment is like a ham and eggs breakfast. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed.”
Starting from Mike Nealy through the ranks, they are a crew of professional people with the chops to work elsewhere. They didn’t, they stuck it out.
As fans, we owe them a debt of gratitude and our continued loyalty. Remember that the next time you see Nealy or any of the other guys in suits at the arena, maybe shake their hands and tell them you noticed their effort.
If you have the money and haven’t done so yet, now’s the time to commit to season or partial season tickets. There’s no reason not to and you don’t want to miss this upcoming season.
I’ve been a hockey fan for a long time and I have never been so excited for a hockey season to start.