GLENDALE - The Coyotes are down to two games left on their schedule and there's a vibe inside Gila River Arena that the end of the season is near.
There's also an elephant the size of Arizona in the dressing room.
Captain Shane Doan, 40, will become an unrestricted free agent after this season and people around the team, including fans, are wondering if this season, his 21st in the NHL, will indeed be his last.
"I'd love to be able to say this is what it is, but it isn't," Doan said recently after being asked about his future. " … I'm really not thinking about it. I'm looking forward to the last few games and being able to contribute and help out."
Doan will play in Thursday's home game vs. Vancouver after missing Tuesday's game at Dallas because of a lower-body injury.
Doan, of course, has played his entire NHL career with the Coyotes franchise and he's been with the team from the beginning of its history in Arizona through its 20th anniversary season here. He holds multiple team records including for games played (1,538), goals (402), assists (569), and points (971), to name just a few. Beyond those statistics, Doan, who is the longest tenured captain in the NHL at 14 years, simply is the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes.
"He's had an amazing career for the Coyotes and we're certainly lucky to have had him for as long as we have," General Manager John Chayka told Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, the team's flagship radio station. "I think Shane's going to take some time to talk to his family and we'll see how that goes. We're happy to have him and we're just waiting to see what he has in store moving forward … It comes down to where he is at physically and mentally."
Even if Doan chooses to retire after this season, Chayka hinted that Doan would still be asked to be part of the team in some capacity.
"I think he brings a whole lot to the organization in terms of who he is and what he means to this community," Chayka said. "That's what I'm excited about as well. He's going to be around for a long time and add a lot of value in a lot of different ways."
Head Coach Dave Tippett has coached Doan for eight seasons. He said Doan has been an invaluable leader for all of them, including this season with such a young team.
"It's not just his playing, it's his leadership, his personality, his commitment to the organization and to the city, all those things rub off, especially when you have as many young players as we have," Tippett said. "It's great that they all get a little bit of a taste of that from him. And the thing that not everybody knows is that Shane is more than willing to help out ... Shane is engaged with the young players all the time."
While the future of his playing career is unclear, Doan said he's been taking time recently to appreciate being in the NHL a little more than usual.
"There's no question that the last year or so I've been trying to be aware of what is inevitable," Doan said. "I'm not blind to the fact that it could be (the end), but I'm not dwelling on it."
Doan's teammates would love for him to continue playing. To a man, they say he is a terrific captain and the team's most valuable asset.
Radim Vrbata, who has played 507 games as Doan's teammate, summed it up best:
"Shane is our leader. He's the guy you can always go to for help. He's the face of this franchise and he did a lot for this team to keep it here in Arizona. On the ice, to play for so long at such a high level is an unbelievable accomplishment, and to do it with one franchise is extraordinary. He means everything to this organization. He's the rock. He's the glue. They are cliches, but when it comes to Shane they are true."