By Steven Simineri
On Sunday night in Los Angeles, the Arizona Coyotes skated against the Kings and ended their playoff hopes with a rare 2-1 victory. But mixed into the game’s storyline was the possibility of the matchup marking the last meeting between longtime Coyotes captain Shane Doan and Jarome Iginla.
The game was Doan’s 1,538th and Iginla suited up in his 1,550th game to pass Alex Delvecchio for 12th on the all-time list.
After all those games neither Iginla nor Doan, each approaching the sunset of a wonderful career, has been on a Cup winner. And neither player has a contract for next season, with both eligible to become unrestricted free agents July 1. Their 20–plus year careers run nearly parallel, dating back to their days as junior hockey teammates with the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League. But right now neither knows what the future holds.
“I’m not sure. Who knows?” Iginla told the LA Times. “We both have been very fortunate and blessed to play as long as we have. It’s pretty cool. “We’ve played right around the same amount of games and same amount of time. It’s been fun, and I’m sure if you ask him, it’s gone quick. I don’t know what his plan is, and I don’t really know mine for sure, either.”
Iginla, who turns 40 in July, is having the most challenging offensive year of his career, netting only 14 goals and 26 points in 76 games. Meanwhile, Doan’s goal production dropped from 28 in 2015-16 to six this season, his least productive campaign since 1998-99.
The two longtime pros are the last remaining remnants of the 1995 NHL Draft class, with Doan going 7th overall to the Winnipeg Jets and Iginla 11th overall to Dallas. Of course, Dallas traded Iginla before he’d ever played an NHL game, and he became the face of the Flames franchise, and meant to Calgary what Doan does to Arizona.
Doan, who turns 41 in October, is the second-oldest player in the NHL, one month ahead of Pittsburgh’s Matt Cullen but a full four years behind the ageless Jaromir Jagr. When he debuted with Winnipeg in Oct. 1995, his current teammate, Max Domi, was seven months old.
The Alberta native is the longest-serving captain in the NHL by three years and the longest-tenured professional athlete in the four major North American sport leagues, edging out Patrick Marleau who has been with the Sharks since 1997.
The Coyotes will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season and are next-to-last in the league. The reality that Doan probably won’t win a Stanley Cup as a player has set in and he’s seemed to accept it. He could hit 1,000 points if he keeps playing into ’17-18, but the Valley icon has said that he will have a discussion with management regarding his future with the team at the end of the season.
“You understand that depending on how everything feels and everything goes, that is one of the ways it could go,” Doan told ArizonaSports.com on Saturday. “But I think it’s in everyone’s mind as they get to the end of their careers that there is a lot less ahead than there is behind. It’s inevitable not to think about it a little bit but if you get caught up in it then it makes it that much more difficult to handle.”
“I’ve thought about it,” Iginla told the LA Daily News last week. “I’ve definitely thought about it, but I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve talked with my wife and my kids. I really genuinely don’t know what next year holds. I’m just trying to enjoy this.”
If he doesn’t, though, the longtime Flame’s last game in Calgary will have been a memorable one. After totaling 525 goals and 1,095 points in 1,219 regular-season games for the Flames, all franchise-bests, Iginla visited the Saddledome for what may have been the last time last Wednesday, and the Edmonton native made it special by recording a Gordie Howe hat trick – that is, a goal, an assist, and a fight.
While Iginla had a fitting possible farewell in Calgary, Doan will at least get to finish off the season on the ice. He returned to the lineup on Friday against the Washington Capitals after a seven-game absence due to a lower-body injury. The Coyotes have three games remaining in the regular season, including the last two at home.
When Doan does eventually walk away, he’d do so as the franchise leader in goals (402), assists (569) and points (971).
As a free agent does that elusive Stanley Cup, if given the chance? He will always be Mr. Coyote and it’s pretty obvious there will be some kind of role for him in the organization after he hangs up his skates. But his legacy in Arizona is more important to him than trying to chase a Cup in a parity-filled league and look no further than his pal Iggy, who left the Flames after all those years to chase a Cup for the Penguins and Bruins.
It’s easy to forget how long we’ve had them both. Doan played in the NHL for the first time on October 7, 1995. Iginla made his NHL debut in the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs back on April 21, 1996. Doan and Iginla, two longtime friends and foes that are both quietly coming to the end of their long professional lives.
Email Steven Simineri at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @SSimineri