MacLean played during his time with the Montreal Junior Canadiens in the OHA Junior, but did not make it to a noteworthy career as a player.
After he had trained a university team, among other things, his dedication to the St. Louis Blues for the 1987/88 season as an assistant coach Jacques Martin. For the following season, he became an assistant to Bryan Murray on the Washington Capitals. As Murray was fired during the 1989/90 season, they staggered into MacLean AHL farm team for the Baltimore Skipjacks.
For the season 1990/91 Murray was hired by the Detroit Red Wings and MacLean followed him as an assistant. Even when MacLean first came into the limelight, Murray pulled strings in the background. After Murray had hired at the Florida Panthers newly founded as General Manager, and the team was looking for a successor to Roger Neilson, the choice fell on Doug MacLean. He was able to convince as head coach at his first job. After his first season 1995/96 he was nominated for the Jack Adams Award best coach in the NHL, the following year he was coach of the NHL All-Star Game.
His success and experience as a coach with the Florida Panthers qualified him to become manager of the newly formed Columbus Blue Jackets first General. After the desired success did not materialize in the third year, he took over the course of the 2002/ 03 even the position as coach. For the 2003/ 04 season he won with Gerard Gallant an assistant coach, from the same place as it comes. After half a season, he handed the reins Gallant and refocused entirely on his managerial work. After the Blue Jackets had failed to qualify in the 2006/07 season for the playoffs, they separated on 18 April 2007 from him.
In August 2007, MacLean led a group of investors who wanted to take over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
- Nominated for the Jack Adams Award: 1996
- Participate in the NHL All-Star Game: 1996, 1997 ( as coach )