Shane Doan's message to Jim Balsillie: Give Phoenix a chance

August, 26, 2009

CALGARY, Alberta -- Writing a Phoenix Coyotes blog wasn't the first thing I thought of after today's session at the Canadian Olympic orientation camp, but after listening to Shane Doan on Wednesday night, you felt compelled to pass on his thoughts.

The Coyotes captain said he has never met Jim Balsillie and hears he's a swell guy, but would have this message for him if he ever did meet him: Give Phoenix a chance.

The Canadian billionaire's bid to move the Coyotes to Hamilton, Ontario, remains alive and will be decided soon in an Arizona court. Doan, like most of his teammates, doesn't want the team to move.

"You see, for me, the city of Phoenix and the valley has been great if we win," Doan said after Day 3 of camp. "We won the first few years or, I should say, we made the playoffs. And the fans were great. In the middle of that, we pretty much changed cities and moved out to Glendale.

"Obviously, that affected our fan base a little bit: It's a fair jaunt out there. And to top it off, we haven't won. You can't blame the fans or the city or the area one bit for the fact that we haven't won. Not to be rude or anything, but when Calgary was struggling and hadn't made the playoffs in a while, I'm from around here, people had season tickets and weren't showing up to games.

"Now if you went seven years without making the playoffs [like Phoenix], or not even come close, you'd see what any hockey city would be like, especially when you have so many [entertainment] options like Phoenix.

"But if you win in Phoenix, they'll support you and they'll love you. The Cardinals have been notorious for being one of the bottom-feeding teams in the NFL and now they're one of the hottest teams in the NFL because the whole Phoenix area has got behind them. It's a huge, huge market -- there's like 6 million people there."

Doan said he understands where Balsillie is coming from.

"As a player, you appreciate the fact that he wants to be involved in our league and he wants to do whatever he can to get a team. You admire that," said Doan.

But ... moving to Hamilton? Not that exciting.

"It comes down to my kids and family; I've been there 14 years," said Doan. "It becomes more personal for me. I know the security guards at the arena, I know all the people that do the equipment, I know all the people that do the PR, I know the interns, I know everybody. And those people are losing their jobs. So it really affects you and your friends and the people around you."

Doan gets peppered by friends and family on the subject, but like most people, he has no real hard answers. The story has had many twists, such as the NHL's bid Tuesday night to buy the team after Jerry Reinsdorf pulled out. It's taxing on the home front.

"My daughter is 10. She hears things -- 'Are you moving or not, Dad?' -- and you don't know anything," said Doan, who has three other children. "You don't want to say 'No, you're not.' Because if you end up moving, you end up feeling like a liar."

Training camps around the NHL open in less than three weeks. Where will the Coyotes be? Who will be their coach? Will Wayne Gretzky be back?

It's frustrating if you're a Coyotes player. For Doan, it's déjà vu: He went through it all with the Winnipeg Jets in the mid-1990s and their eventual move to Phoenix.

"One year, it looked like we were gone and it was like 'Just kidding.' We came back for one more year," recalled Doan. "It was tough on everybody, it was tough on the fans. At the end of the year, there weren't a lot of people at the games. But in the playoffs, it was unbelievable; it was the loudest, most incredible atmosphere I've ever been in in hockey.

"And in Phoenix, if we're able to win, people will come out and cheer for us. If we're able to make the playoffs, they'll come out and support us huge. It's really going to come down to the players and the organization. When we win, we'll be OK."

Here's where it gets interesting, though. I think it's already over in Phoenix no matter who ends up winning this team in bankruptcy court. This soap opera has killed the market. Does anyone really think that if the NHL wins out in its purchase bid it will try that hard to keep the team in Phoenix? My bet is, after one season in front of empty seats, the league would put the team up for a relocation auction sale, a process it could control, and certainly freeze out Balsillie.

In the end, the Coyotes may very well move to Canada, but it may not be Balsillie who owns them.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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