In 1982, John McMullen purchased the Colorado Rockies for approximately $32 million, moved them to East Rutherford, New Jersey, and renamed them the New Jersey Devils.
Nearly 35 years and three Stanley Cup championships later, the Devils will honor McMullen by making him the first to be inducted into their Ring of Honor during a ceremony prior to their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Prudential Center on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET; MSG+, SNO, NHL.TV). Additionally, the City of Newark will rename the stretch of Lafayette Street adjacent to Prudential Center between Broad Street and Mulberry Street "Dr. John J. McMullen Way."
McMullen, who died Sept. 16, 2005, at age 87, will be represented at the ceremony by his wife, Jacqueline, his son, Peter, and additional family members.
"It means a lot to our family to have this happen, in particular my mother and the rest of the family," Peter McMullen said. "It's really exciting and it's a nice thing they're doing."
Devils alumni expected to attend include former president and general manager Lou Lamoriello, now the GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs, former Devils director of player personnel Marshall Johnston and retired players Ken Daneyko, Bruce Driver, Jim Dowd, Claude Lemieux, John MacLean, Randy McKay, Glenn "Chico" Resch, Stephane Richer, and Sergei Starikov.
"There's nobody more fitting," Daneyko said of McMullen being honored. "He was a special man. We all know that."
Daneyko is one of four Devils players to have his number retired; the others are goaltender Martin Brodeur and defensemen Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer. The Devils' discussions about starting a Ring of Honor began before they moved to Newark in 2007. Devils and Prudential Center president Hugh Weber said the timing felt right to do something now to honor "folks who had an incredible impact on the DNA of this franchise and yet didn't play the game."
McMullen was the obvious first choice.
"None of us would be here talking about Devils hockey if it weren't for Dr. McMullen coming up on 35 seasons ago saying, 'I'm going to make an investment,'" Weber said.
McMullen paid $12.5 million in territorial indemnities, split among the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers, to move the franchise to New Jersey because he believed there was room for another NHL team in the New York metropolitan area. The Rockies went 18-49-13 in 1981-82, and McMullen had no illusions that they would contend for the Stanley Cup right away. However, he established from the start that he was committed to making his team a winner.
"He was kind of fearless when he brought the team [to New Jersey], and he kind of had to be because the Islanders and the Rangers, they were trying to fight him," said Resch, who came with the team from Colorado to New Jersey. "He gave the team a sense of, 'We've got a guy that he's going to push on through. He's going to take this head on and he's going to make this work.'"
The Devils went through some tough times initially, failing to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in their first five seasons. The turning point came when McMullen convinced Lamoriello to leave Providence College, where he was the athletic director and had been the men's hockey coach, to join the Devils in 1987.
The Devils made the playoffs for the first time the following season and went on to win the Stanley Cup twice (1995, 2000) before McMullen sold them in 2000.
"The most important thing was the man himself," Lamoriello said. "He was one of honesty and integrity. I'm so appreciative of the time I spent there because he allowed me to do things that were necessary, and unless you had a strong individual like himself, you wouldn't have been able to do those things."
Although, as Lamoriello said, McMullen "wanted to win," he also felt it was important to develop a family atmosphere within the organization. Resch recalled going to a team party at McMullen's home in Montclair, New Jersey, during the Devils' first training camp.
"You got a sense of the family thing," Resch said. "I know it sounds corny now because it's all about money, but back then he was smart enough to try to accentuate the intangibles of the franchise."
No player was closer with McMullen than Daneyko, who remains grateful for the support he received when his bout with alcoholism led to a stint in a treatment center in California in 1997.
"No one had my back more than he did, sometimes to a fault," Daneyko said. "I look back and go, 'I probably wouldn't gotten through a lot of those tough times.' All the long talks and late phone calls at night between us and things that are personal meant a whole lot to me and were able to help me get through a whole lot of things."
Although it has been more than 15 years since McMullen sold the Devils, his legacy lives on in the them and in New Jersey youth hockey. The Devils continue to host the state high school championship at Prudential Center every season and annually give out the Dr. John J. McMullen Service to New Jersey Hockey Award to an individual who has supported amateur hockey in the state.
"It's got to start somewhere," Brodeur said, "and it takes a man like [McMullen] to have a vision and be willing to pay a dear price to different franchises around with the Rangers, the Flyers and the Islanders, believing that it was going to work.
"At the end of the day, we were really successful with the Stanley Cups and getting ourselves a new building. He was a part of all that. He was no longer the owner, but he started the whole thing. So, definitely, hockey in New Jersey starts with Dr. McMullen."