Doan is the last of the faithful

On a day when the sheer madness of the coming NHL lockout was brought into particular focus with even more over-the-top contract signings, an almost-36-year-old man and a team with no owner offered a brief respite from the pessimism that marks the hockey world.

With NHL owners blithely signing off on more long-term contracts on the eve of a second lockout in eight years, contracts they’re insisting are ruining the game, Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan put his name to a four-year deal that presumably will keep him with the same franchise for the entirety of his sterling career, even as the future of that franchise remains at best fluid, at least uncertain.

Talk about a leap of faith by one of the last of the faithful.

Hotly pursued by a number of NHL clubs and most vigorously by the Vancouver Canucks and the New York Rangers, Doan will make $21.2 million, including a $2 million signing bonus, over the course of the four-year pact.

So this isn’t about Doan being a martyr, something he made very clear Friday afternoon at a news conference at the Coyotes’ home rink in Glendale, Ariz.

He, like all NHL players, will be handsomely paid.

But on the eve of a lockout that looks to silence the game because players and owners can’t find a way to slice up a revenue pie that has grown to $3.3 billion, the Doan transaction, one that had to be OK'd by the NHL as the current owner of the team, was somehow comforting for its simplicity and for the underlying themes his decision represented.

The rugged winger has never won a Stanley Cup. In fact, until this past spring when the Coyotes marched to their first Western Conference finals, Doan had never played in more than seven games in any one playoff year. And so with the Coyotes’ ownership situation continuing to twist in the wind, who could have blamed Doan had he signed with the two-time defending Presidents’ Trophy winners in Vancouver? Or the Rangers, who were an Eastern Conference finalist this past season? Or the Pittsburgh Penguins with all their star power?

He certainly would have made more money while ensuring his family’s security.

But he didn’t.

Even though the team’s ownership situation remains in flux -- a source told ESPN.com on Friday that a group led by former San Jose Sharks president and CEO Greg Jamison hopes to complete the purchase of the team from the NHL by the end of September or shortly thereafter -- Doan refused to walk away from the only team he has ever known.

As one team official put it, Doan is the new face of loyalty.

This franchise has had some pretty big challenges in the past three years, coach Dave Tippett told ESPN.com on Friday after the signing.

But to lose Doan, “that would have been as big a one as we would have ever had,” the former coach of the year said.

In the face of almost constant instability since the team was thrown into bankruptcy and became a ward of the NHL three seasons ago, Doan has represented the opposite.

“In a single word, stability,” Tippett said. “It’s as simple as that.”

In Glendale on Friday afternoon, GM Don Maloney happily gave Doan, who will turn 36 in October, back his jersey, the familiar "C" on the front, his trademark No. 19 on the back. Doan acknowledged the process was more difficult than he had imagined it would be. But when all was said and done, he ended up where he wanted to be.

“I think I made it very clear from the beginning my whole goal was to come back here,” Doan told reporters.

According to CapGeek.com, almost $340 million in contracts have been signed by players in the past month. Many of those exceed the five-year limit on contracts that the owners have been trying to bargain into a new collective bargaining agreement. The hypocrisy of such spending in the face of another labor stoppage hasn’t been lost on anyone who laments the future of the game.

Somehow, the Doan deal appears as a final breath of fresh air before the doors go dark on the game, a kind of talisman of hope for the game whenever the game gets around to presenting itself as a game.

Skeptics believe that even if the Coyotes ownership deal gets done, the team will wither and die in the desert, that hockey doesn’t belong in the desert. People have been predicting the team’s demise for a long time now, and many in recent weeks have pointed to the team’s constant near-death spasms as one of the reasons the NHL is headed for another labor impasse.

Still, fans filled Jobing.com Arena during the Yotes’ spirited run to the conference finals this past spring, and new owners, assuming a deal is consummated, will finally get a chance to capitalize on the considerable good will that has been built up in the marketplace by three straight playoff appearances by Doan et al.

Doan insisted one of the reasons he signed with the Coyotes is that he believes the ownership deal will get resolved and that he wants to be part of something special that has been building in Arizona for the past three years.

Those years, he said Friday, have been among the most fun he’s ever had playing the game.

Maybe it works in the desert.

Maybe there are more hard times and, who knows, perhaps even more than a little regret ahead for Doan. But one thing seems clear enough: Had Doan gone elsewhere, the job of selling the belief that the Coyotes do have a place in the NHL and in Arizona would have become exponentially harder, maybe even impossible.

From fans and sponsors on through to the guys in the dressing room -- whenever those guys actually get back to the Coyotes' dressing room -- the job of selling that belief is made easier by Doan’s decision.

Not long after Doan’s signing was made public, a rendering of the Coyotes’ captain appeared on the team’s website with the following tag line: Home for Good, Playing For Keeps.

On a day that made you wonder about the madness that is the coming lockout, it had a nice ring to it.