Coyotes search for stability

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:52 PM ET

He’s had a front-row seat for the twists and turns in the Phoenix Coyotes saga — but he also wears part of his heart on the blue-and-white sleeve of a Winnipeg Jets jersey.

So excuse team captain Shane Doan if he’s just a tad conflicted about the now-they’re-moving, now-they’re-not status of the Coyotes.

While on a road trip through blustery western Canada that had the Coyotes in Edmonton Friday night, Doan took some time to reflect on the last year and a half, which has seen his team declare bankruptcy and get taken over by the NHL, while potential owner after potential owner kicks the tires.

Every time one walks away, someone pulls up a stake holding the franchise in Phoenix and earmarks it for Winnipeg.

“You try to block it out as much as you can,” Doan was saying. “It’s interesting. I have four kids, and they’re 11, eight, six and four. Their whole life has been in Phoenix. They see it and hear that they’d have to leave their friends — they’re obviously upset.

“My wife and I are from Western Canada so it’s not as big a deal for us. When you’re a dad and you see your kids crying and you know they don’t want to leave their friends and hockey teams ... it’s so personal. It goes both ways for you.”

Especially for Doan, whose career began right here, 15 years ago, on what’s now a vacant lot used as parking for Blue Bomber games.

A product of Halkirk, Alta., Doan was the first pick of the Jets’ last draft, in 1995, and he’s never played for another franchise.

More pugilist than point-getter as a rookie (17 points, 101 penalty minutes), he’s now among the Coyotes’ all-time leaders in every statistical category.

“I’ve put in 15 years now, and I’ve worked hard,” Doan said. “There’ve been times when it hasn’t looked very optimistic. You feel you owe loyalty to the organization that drafted you and gave you the opportunity to play.”

Like the loyal foot soldier he is, Doan would probably make the move back to the ’Peg if the team did.

The odds of that happening, of course, have dropped considerably since Chicago entrepreneur Matthew Hulsizer entered the picture, negotiating a tentative lease deal in Glendale.

All this while the Coyotes continue to languish at the bottom of the league in attendance, with an average of just over 10,000 fans per game.

While jetting between Calgary and Edmonton this week, though, Doan saw some light at the end of that tunnel. Actually, the light looked more like a snowstorm.

Yes, the onset of winter on the Canadian prairies is a sure sign of better times ahead in the desert suburbs.

“We just got hit by a cold snap up in Canada, and our building will fill up down in Phoenix when that happens up here,” Doan said. “We understand that.”

He also understands what can happen when the stars align down there.

“At the end of last year it was unbelievable. I think the last six games we sold out, and the last 14 games we averaged around 15,000 fans a game, and it was great. When you compare it to the beginning of the year, in October, before all the Canadians come down to visit... ”

Well, you can’t.

So winter up here has done its part to help the Coyotes.

Now Doan and Co. have to do theirs, regardless who’s paying the bills or what twists this story takes next.

If the NHL doesn’t have a deal in place by the end of December, it has the right to open relocation talks with any potential owner.

“I just want the organization to win,” Doan concluded.

Alas, for the former Winnipeg Jets, that quality has been every bit as elusive as stability.


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