Doug Maclean’s Ottawa Hockey Connection Runs Deep

If you’ve ever spent time with hockey lifer Doug MacLean or listened to him on radio, TV, or podcasts, you’ll know he’s one of the sport’s finest storytellers. Regardless of the topic, it isn’t long before MacLean announces, “You know, I’ve got a funny story about that,” and spins a classic hockey tale from his past experiences in the game.

So when he was asked to write a book a few years ago, the challenge wasn’t coming up with enough stories to tell; it was how to narrow it down to the best ones.

MacLean had a long, accomplished NHL career that began in 1987 with assistant coaching roles in St. Louis, Washington, and Detroit. He was a head coach in Florida, leading the upstart Panthers to the 1996 Stanley Cup Final. His final NHL stop was his longest, serving primarily as GM and President of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

After a decade in broadcasting with Sportsnet, he’s now thoroughly enjoying retirement and excited about his new book, Draft Day: How Hockey Teams Pick Winners or Get Left Behind. It’s a great read for any hockey fan who’s curious about the draft process or wonders how their team develops that winning chemistry – or fails to – year after year.

As Faces caught up with MacLean, we were fascinated by his long list of Ottawa-area stories and connections like Bryan Murray, Jacques Martin, Rick and Ryan Bowness, Marc Methot (drafted by MacLean), and even meeting his wife in this neck of the woods.

Tell us about the new book and how it all came together.
A couple of weeks after I left Sportsnet, I got a call asking if I’d be interested in doing a book. And I told them I didn’t want to do a book about myself, to be quite honest, because there’s not enough there. So, they said, no, we’re looking for something similar to Moneyball in baseball. You know, a book about the NHL draft and analytics.

The NHL draft was always an important time and a big part of your year. So it intrigued me. And as it moved along, Scott Morrison joined me as a ghostwriter, and we spent three years working on it. So it became a fun project with Scott, a good friend of mine and a great writer.

Do you have any desire to get back into broadcasting or the NHL? Here in Ottawa, Jacques Martin is taking another run at things at 71.
Well, you know, it’s funny. I was coaching at UNB, and Jacques Martin gave me my first NHL job. He offered me an assistant coaching job with St. Louis in 1987. And if it’s not for Jacques, I probably don’t have an NHL career. So I was thrilled to see him return with the Sens last month.

I have no desire to get back into broadcasting full-time. I’m enjoying retirement, and I do a ton of real estate stuff in PEI. So that
keeps me occupied. I’m having fun. I follow the NHL closely. And my son’s an agent in Chicago. I talk to him on a daily basis. So
I’ve got lots going on.

You famously love PEI. What is it about your home province that’s gotten into your bones?

I don’t know. I was born there and brought up there. I’ve always really, really enjoyed it. My wife is from Brockville, Ontario. We met in high school when I played for the Brockville Braves. We’ve been married for 47 years and spent every summer in PEI. When you’re in the NHL, you need a home base, and PEI became our summer home base.

You seem to have plenty of ties to the Ottawa area, and we haven’t even talked yet about former Senator GM Bryan Murray.

Yeah, I talked about Jacques Martin giving me a great opportunity. But I met Bryan Murray when I was playing for Brockville. I was playing in the Central Junior All-Star game in Pembroke, and Bryan was our coach. I thought, “My God, this guy is a great coach.” I just loved how Bryan communicated with the players. So good. Anyway, later on, out of the blue, I got a call saying I had been recommended for a Hockey Canada scholarship. And in those days, you had a full four-year ride at any university in Canada. And I said, “How did I get this?” And they said, “Bryan Murray recommended you.”

And then, after Jacques and I got fired in St. Louis, I got another call from Bryan Murray, who offered me a job in Washington as his assistant coach.

So, how bizarre is that? Jacques gave me my first chance in the NHL, and Bryan Murray made my career. Bryan gave me the job in Washington, and I went to Detroit with him for five years. And then I was his head coach in Florida. I talked a lot in the book about what Bryan meant to me and my career.

What are some of the reasons why some of these superstar 18-year-old draft prospects don’t work out in the NHL?

I think about Gilbert Brule (drafted by Columbus 6th overall in 2005). I went to Moncton in the Memorial Cup and watched him a year after we drafted him. And everybody at the Memorial Cup came up to me and said, “Oh my God, you got a star, Doug. This guy is going to be so good.”

He was dynamite in Moncton for Vancouver. He was the MVP of the Memorial Cup. He looked like a star. And then he came back to camp the following year and he broke his leg, and then he had concussion problems. And he had some things going on with his family. You just never know how things will turn out.

Speaking of which, I’ll never forget this story as long as I live. The genius, Pierre McGuire, was on TSN then, and Montreal stepped up and took Carey Price 5th overall. And McGuire goes ballistic on TV, saying things like, “I can’t believe Montreal would do this to their fan base. I can’t. They’ve got Cristobal Huet. Why would they ever take this guy?” And McGuire is just ripping Montreal for taking (future hall of famer) Carey Price. Then, three years ago, I listened to McGuire on Ottawa radio, and he’s ripping me for taking Brule! And I’m like, “Okay, that’s just life, I guess.”

Who would be one of your favourite draft picks?

I hated watching what went on in the stands with the kids sitting there and not being drafted. And I’ll never forget, as long as I live, sitting at the draft table and we’re going into the seventh round. And Rick Bowness had been sitting over there in the stands with his son. So I asked my guys to tell me about his son. And they said it was Ryan Bowness, Rick’s son. He played major junior in Brampton.

And I watched them go through seven rounds and not be picked. So I asked my guys, “Does he have a chance to be an NHLer?” And they said he was a character kid, a battler, and works hard. So I’ve known Rick Bowness from back in junior hockey and Halifax, and I said, “I’m taking this pick. I’m taking Ryan Bowness with our seventh pick.”

So we drafted Ryan. Rick still reminds me of that, as does Ryan. I’m proud that he played a little bit in the minors, returned to St. Mary’s, got his degree, and now he’s an assistant GM with the Senators. So he didn’t make it as a player, but he certainly made it in the business and the hockey side of things. So, that was one of my favorite picks in the draft. And that story is in the book, too.

Anything else we need to know about the book?

No, if you’re interested in the draft and a hockey fan, it tells you how things are done and how it works behind the scenes. There are lots of excellent stories. And even if you’re not a hockey nerd, you still might like it from a management and leadership point of view.

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