Shortly after hopping the wall for his final shift of the 2016-17 season — and maybe ever — Doan hugged current teammates and former teammate Martin Hanzal. Then he took a microphone and thanked the crowd for sticking with the team through a difficult season.
Hugs followed Doan wherever he went, as the game broadcast showed a tribute to the player known as The Doaner all around the arena. An interview with his entire family followed.
Doan has said he isn’t sure if this is the end of his career. The way everyone carried on, it sure seemed like it was.
“I love the game. I love to play, and I want to keep playing,” Doan said after getting an assist in Arizona’s 3-1 loss to Minnesota on Saturday. “But I also have to understand sometimes things move on, and it’s sometimes better to leave when people think you can still play. Other times, it’s better to play until they drag it off your back. I go back and forth on that.”
Doan has been the cornerstone of the franchise almost since the day the Winnipeg Jets selected him with the seventh overall pick in the 1995 NHL draft. He followed the team west a year later and became one of the most popular sports figures in the history of the Valley of the Sun.
Doan helped lead the Coyotes to their pinnacle so far, a run to the 2012 Western Conference finals, and spurned opportunities to play for a Stanley Cup-contending team when the franchise went into rebuilding mode.
Doan is the team’s career leader in just about every significant category. He played his 1,540th game Saturday night, tying John Bucyk for 14th on the NHL’s all-time list.
If this was indeed the end, Doan will finish his career with 402 goals and 570 assists.
“Without his presence in the locker room and on the ice, it will be difficult,” Coyotes goalie Mike Smith said. “It will be a challenge for the leadership group to try to fill his shoes. It’s impossible to do that, but if he does not come back, there will obviously be a huge void there.”
Doan contemplated retirement after the 2015-16 season and ended up having a renaissance after he decided to play at least one more year, as he led the Coyotes with 28 goals while adding 19 assists.
His 21st season was not as productive. Doan had a decreased role — at least on the ice — and had a few injuries that slowed him, causing his numbers to drop to six goals and 21 assists.
The 40-year-old said for the first time this season that he would be open to a trade to the right team, but no teams came calling at the deadline. Doan did not want to make a decision about retirement before the season ended to avoid the emotion and distraction, and he will consult with his family before announcing what he’s going to do.
“Two weeks ago, there was no way I was retiring,” Doan said. “Five days ago, I definitely was. Two days ago, I definitely wasn’t.”
Doan isn’t the only Coyotes player who might have played his last game. Defenseman Zbynek Michalek had three stints with the Coyotes during his 14-year NHL career, giving them a steady, stay-at-home blue liner during his time in the desert. The 34-year-old’s production fell off the past two seasons, and he spent most of this year with the Tucson Roadrunners, the Coyotes’ AHL affiliate.
The Coyotes called Michalek back up for the season finale so he could finish his career as an NHL player, a gesture that left him emotional before and after Saturday’s game.
“The whole day today or last night, I had a tough time sleeping just … sorry, just the whole career just flashes in front of my eyes, how lucky I was to play for so long,” said Michalek, who twice had to compose himself before continuing. “Playing in this great city, great organization and the people along the way, the friendships and everything, it means a lot so I couldn’t be more thankful.”