The 1995-96 Florida Panthers were Stanley Cup finalists under Doug MacLean
Doug MacLean was inducted into the PEI Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.
Doug MacLean became a longtime friend early in his career with his mentor Bryan Murray who passed away in 2017
Doug MacLean – A Lifetime in Hockey
Doug MacLean has done it all in hockey and at all levels.
From a player to a coach, general manager, team president, owner and TV analyst and radio talk show host. The latter is perhaps most surprising. It was MacLean who once offered, “Sports talks shows are coach killers.” He made that remark in the mid-1990’s when he was behind the bench with the Florida Panthers. His point was the increasing number for sports talk shows on radio and TV that allowed listeners to air their opinions on each team’s players and management which he believed was increasing the anxiety for many a coach who was on the hot seat during a long and often a losing season. Sometimes even a winning season.
In any case, Doug MacLean became one of the best hockey analysts on Sportsnet in Canada. As a coach and general manager, he was always prepared and well planned along with having a positive personality and some Island wit to go along with it. His honesty also reflected the kind of man he has always been in hockey. He tells it like it is. No candy coating, just the plain truth as he sees it.
MacLean grew up in Summerside (born April 12, 1954), no doubt spending hours on the ice at Cahill Stadium. He joined the Montreal Junior Canadians in 1971-72 and played in 31 games compiling 5 goals and 5 assists for 10 points. In 1972-73 he was with the Montreal Red, White & Blue and had 1 assist in 16 games. As a 20-year old he was drafted by the St. Louis Blues in the 8th round of the NHL Entry Draft in 1974 but failed to impress the Blues in a tryout in the training camp and joined the UPEI Panthers in the AUAA. The next four seasons he played for Jack Kane, the longtime UPEI head coach and Jack Hynes in his final year. He graduated with an education degree in the spring of 1977 and was ready to turn to coaching. His first job was teaching position at Holland College in Summerside where he coached the hockey team for one winter. He then took over as coach of the Summerside Crystals Junior team before a change in his teaching responsibilities forced him to stop coaching for one year. By the time he was back, the Crystals had left the Island Jr. “A” League so he took over as coach of the Three Oaks Senior High School Axemen where he was teaching,
MacLean’s next step was a big one. He became the first head coach of the Summerside Western Capitals, an expansion franchise in the Island Jr. Hockey League in 1981-82. It was a return for both MacLean and junior hockey to the Island’s Western Capitals. He and the Caps coaching staff and management worked toward their first league championship in only three seasons, taking the Island crown in 1983-84. It was Summerside’s first championship in 12 years. The Capitals have become a breeding round for future NHL coaches. Doug MacLean, Dave Cameron and Gerard Gallant were all head coaches with the Caps from the 80’s through the 90’s.
MacLean’s hockey career continued to evolve. He announced he would be leaving Summerside to pursue a Masters Degree in Education at the University of Western Ontario in London. He approached London Knights head coach Don Boyd to see if he could become a part-time assistant coach with the OHL team and spent the balance of 1984-85 studying at Western and spending a lot of time at London Gardens. The following summer he became head hockey coach of the University of New Brunswick for the 1985-86 season.
As it would happen a pro hockey coaching career was in the offing just months later. Jacques Martin became the head coach of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues and he needed an assistant. Martin and MacLean had worked together at a hockey school in Ontario where two had become acquainted. Martin was impressed with the Island native’s persistence and hockey abilities and sought out his old friend. Doug accepted and was with the Blues for two seasons before Martin was fired. That left MacLean in limbo but it wasn’t too long before he found a new team. He joined the late Bryan Murray and the Washington Capitals as an assistant.
Murray passed away in August, 2017 after a battle with cancer. MacLean never forgot him or what he did to allow him to continue his NHL career. He told Sportsnet, "I met Bryan when I was an 18-year-old in the Central Junior Hockey League and he was the all-star coach," Maclean said. "I remember leaving that game, having listened to Bryan speak for two days to a group of us, thinking, 'Does this guy know his hockey or what?' "
The two would continue to talk hockey whenever Murray came to the Island and they kept in touch. After being let go in St. Louis in 1988, Murray gave him a call and invited him to come to Washington to talk about a position with the Capitals. The two worked together, as friends in Landover, Maryland and later in Detroit and Florida.
"Bryan was a mentor and a great friend, and it was all really pretty amazing," Maclean told Sportsnet. "Truth be known, if it wasn't for Bryan, I'm not in the NHL. Jacques Martin gave me a great chance in St. Louis, out of the University of New Brunswick, but Bryan really made my career.”
During the 1989-90 season he got his first chance to be a head coach at the pro level with the Baltimore Skipjacks in the AHL on January 16, 1990 replacing Terry Murray who was summoned to Washington to become the new head coach. MacLean was 17-13-5 in 35 games in the second half and guided the Skipjacks to the second round of the playoffs. A few of his players included Nick Kypreos (who he would later join on Hockey Central on Sportsnet), veteran Doug Wickenheiser, Tim Taylor and two Island natives, Kent Paynter and Tyler Larter.
Terry Murray replaced his brother Bryan in Landover. The elder Murray found a new job in 1990 with the Detroit Red Wings succeeding Jacques Demers. Doug MacLean was a natural choice as an assistant and his new job found him with another Island native, Gerard Gallant who was a graduate of one of Doug’s hockey schools in Summerside. The two would be reunited further down the road as well. He spent two years behind the Red Wings bench, including the 1991-92 season when the club captured the Norris Division title serving as associate coach. The following year he left the coaching ranks to focus on the Red Wings’ player development efforts. He served as Detroit’s assistant general manager, as well as the general manager of the Adirondack Red Wings, Detroit’s AHL affiliate, from 1992-94. One of his players in Adirondack was former UPEI Panther Dave Flanagan, a right wing who had joined the Red Wings in 1991-92. MacLean continued as an assistant general manager with Detroit and general manager in Adirondack until 1994.
He left the Detroit organization to join Florida as director of player development and pro scout in 1994 and was named the second head coach in Panthers history on July 24, 1995. In his first season as an NHL head coach, MacLean led Florida to a 41-31-10 record during the regular season. The fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, Florida beat Boston in six games in the first round and then upset top-seeded Philadelphia in seven games to advance to the Conference Finals. The Panthers then upset No. 2 seed Pittsburgh in seven games to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals where they were defeated in four games by the Colorado Avalanche. His work behind the bench earned MacLean The Hockey News Coach of the Year Award and recognition as a finalist for the Jack Adams Award.
In 1996-97, he guided Florida to one of the fastest starts in NHL history as the club went 8-0-4 in its first 12 games and finished the season with a 35-28-19 mark. He earned a coaching nod in the All-Star Game for the second consecutive year and guided the East to an 11-7 win in the game played at the San Jose Arena. The win marked his second-straight victory at the event. In the first round of the playoffs, Florida suffered three one-goal losses and was defeated by the New York Rangers in five games. During those two campaigns, Florida posted a 76-59-29 record. Only five teams posted more victories than Florida during that span.
The Blue Jackets
With so much experience in the National Hockey League, serving in a variety of administrative, personnel and coaching capacities, he was a natural fit for the fledgling Columbus Blue Jackets, and he joined the club on Feb. 11, 1998 as general manager, and a month later was named president of the organization. As its top executive, he held the dual role of overseeing both the business and hockey operations of the franchise, as well as the management of Nationwide Arena. Under MacLean’s guidance, the club quickly established itself as one of the most successful organizations in the NHL. The Blue Jackets made a significant impact in the Columbus community through its business operations and community service programs and have played to nearly 97 percent of capacity (18,136) with 115 sell-out crowds in 205 regular season games at Nationwide Arena. Columbus set franchise record for wins and points in a season in 2005-06 with a 35-43-4 record, including a 23-16-2 mark during the second half of the campaign. During the inaugural 2000-01 season, the club went 28-39-9-6 with its 71 points marking the second-highest total by an expansion team in NHL history, excluding the first wave of expansion in 1967 and the merger of four World Hockey Association teams in 1979. Of the 14 teams that joined the league since, only Florida Panthers (33-34-7, 83 pts.) were better than Columbus. MacLean also served as the Blue Jackets’ head coach from January 7, 2003 through January 1, 2004.
The Summerside Mafia
Doug MacLean never forgot his roots or the people who he worked with over the years. That included a number of Summerside natives who joined him in Columbus. Among them was his long-time friend Jimmy Clark who was an assistant coach on the first Summerside Western Caps team in 1981-82 and general manager with the Caps first PEI champion in 1983-84. Clark later became an NHL scout and was named assistant general manager with Columbus in 1998 and Executive Vice-President in 2001. He was a member of the Florida Panthers scouting staff from 1995 to 1998.
Gerard Gallant was also an assistant coach with the Blue Jackets and a head coach.
Jim Rankin, another Islander, was the Manager of Team Services.
George Matthews was play-by-play man on Blue Jackets on radio.
To say Columbus had a “taste of the Island” would be an understatement. MacLean even brought the Blue Jackets to Summerside’s Cahill Stadium for a week of training camp in mid-September, 2002. He had done the same with the Florida Panthers in 1996.
MacLean left the Blue Jackets organization in 2007 to become a broadcaster where he gained a prominent role on Sportsnet’s Hockey Central, and the Fan590 in Toronto. MacLean would commute from his home in south Florida to Toronto a few times a month during the season. At one point he had an interest in joining a group that wanted to bring an NHL franchise to Hamilton, Ontario but those plans never came to fruition. He continued to spend summers back on the Island with a cottage at Shelton on PEI’s south shore. He also got involved in real estate in Summerside. His role on Sportsnet came to an end in late August, 2019. He and fellow commentator Nick Kypreos were leaving the league’s principal rights holder, which scaled back several costs associated with a multi-year $5.2 billion package it agreed to with the league in 2013. Contract disputes, changing viewer habits and demographics were speculated to have been behind recent moves that included radio host Bob McCown’s departure along with others like John Shannon. One of the reasons considered was the lack of success of a Canadian-based team since 1993 to win a Stanley Cup.
MacLean was known for his insight and knowledge not only of the game itself but players and coaches backgrounds and the rules not only on the ice but also in regard to players rights and contracts and how that interacted with management. He always came prepared and had quick contact with many people in the hockey world on his Blackberry. He also often referred to news and events back home on PEI.
On the day he left, the 65-year old MacLean Tweeted “After covering the greatest game in the world for the past 10 years I won’t be returning to Sportsnet . Thanks to all hockey fans for your great support . To my colleagues, especially @RealKyper thanks for the help and friendships. #pei#florida#golf#book”
Perhaps his second greatest thrill other than coaching the Florida Panthers into the Stanley Cup finals in 1996 vs. Colorado, was coaching the NHL Eastern Conference All-Stars back-to-back in 1996 and 1997. The ’97 team is regarded as the best all-star line-up ever when you look at the names: Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Mark Messier, Eric Lindros, Ray Bourque, Paul Coffey, Brian Leetch, Scott Stevens, Daniel Alfredsson, Dale Hawerchuk and Adam Oates. Plus goaltenders Dominik Hasek, Martin Brodeur and John Vanbiesbrouck. Talk about a Dream Team, this team added up to a combined 21 Art Ross Trophies, 18 Hart Trophies, 10 Norris Trophies, 11 Vezina Trophies and 26 Stanley Cups.
MacLean’s Eastern Conference stars won the game 6-5 thanks to Ray Bourque’s game-winner with 37 seconds left in the third period. It’s considered by many to be one of the best and most competitive All-Star games of the past 25 years. MacLean coached against the great Scott Bowman in Boston.
Said MacLean after the game, “I had worked with Scotty during my last year in Detroit. Scotty had come in and then Bryan Murray and I got fired and we ended up going to Florida. It was cool to coach against Scotty, a legend.”
The Dream Team of ’97 won the All-Star Game in San Jose, 11-7 but had to hold off the Western Conference team that rallied down 10-4.
The victorious coach was out to win, no doubt about it.
“Look, the winning team got $10,000. And I wanted the $10,000, let me tell you (laughs). I remember saying in both games after the second period, ‘I don’t know if you guys care about the $10,000, but I sure as hell care about the $10,000, so you better be playing hard if you want to play. I think they thought I was nuts. I was looking forward to the cash and buying a new car.”
His son Clark, who was about nine at the time, also collected some autographed sticks from Lemieux and Gretzky. It was a big weekend for the MacLeans!
Doug and his wife Jill have two children, including Clark and daughter MacKenzie. His family has been just as important to him as hockey. In many ways Doug MacLean is at or near the top of the most influential people in the game to ever come out of Prince Edward Island.