Friday, May 23, 2008

Larry Murphy

Larry Murphy very quietly amassed a career which landed him in Hockey's Hall of Fame.

Murphy was drafted 4th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the 1980 NHL entry draft, He was drafted out of the famed Peterborough Petes junior organization, where he was part of the 1979 Memorial Cup championship. He was the OHL's outstanding defenseman in 1979-80, earning him a higher NHL draft selection than Paul Coffey.

In his first NHL season "Murph" set NHL rookie records for defensemen when he recorded 60 assists and 76 points. Despite the impressive debut, Peter Stastny would win the rookie of the year award with an incredible season. This became somewhat typical of Murphy's career. His quiet excellence was always overshadowed by someone else. The humble Murphy never minded.

Murphy would enjoy three seasons in Los Angeles before being traded to the Washington Capitals where he finally started getting some of the recognition he deserved. His best season as a Cap was in 1986-87 when he set a team record for points by a defenseman wtih 81 (23 goals, 58 assists).

Perhaps Murphy will be best remembered as the most famous decoy in hockey history. Murphy was part of the 1987 Canada Cup team and was the third attacker on the famous 3-on-1 attack that won the game and the series. Murphy darted to the front of the net and was wide open for a potential tap-in, but Wayne Gretzky elected to drop the pass back to the trailing Mario Lemieux, who of course put the puck top shelf on the Russian goalie.

A consistent power play and even strength scoring threat, Murphy suffered through a bad final season in Washington in 1989, only recording 36 points in 65 games. He was moved to Minnesota where he rediscovered his scoring touch scoring 68 points in 77 games.

But Murphy's stay in Minny was short lived as well, as he was traded to Pittsburgh where he was an important addition to a powerful offensive team already boasting Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr. Murphy's slick playmaking and good slap shot helped Pittsburgh win their first Stanley Cup. Murphy played a huge role in that initial Cup victory, scoring 23 points in 23 games.

Murphy and the Pens successfully defended their Cup win the following year.

Ironically, Murphy's most successful personal season came after the Pens reign as champs. He recorded a career high 85 points and 13 more in 12 playoff games, but the Pens were upset by David Volek and the New York Islanders in the playoffs.

After a short and tumultuous stint in Toronto, Detroit picked up the veteran defenseman late in the 1996-97 season hoping he'd be the final piece of their Stanley Cup puzzle. They were right. After losing Paul Coffey, the Wings lacked that offensive punch from the point, especially on the powerplay. Enter Larry Murphy. He surprised everyone with his youthful play despite his age. His offense and experience brought the Stanley Cup back to Detroit.

Murphy played 1,615 regular season games in the NHL, recording 287 goals, 929 assists and 1216 points, which, at the time of his retirement, placed him as the third highest scoring defenseman in NHL history. His 1615 regular season games placed him, again at the time of retirement, second on the NHL's all time games played list, behind Gordie Howe.

Murphy was a tremendous playoff performer as well, playing 215 NHL playoff games, contributing 37 goals and 115 assists for 152 points, winning the aforementioned 4 Stanley Cups.

All of this adds up to an obvious induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame, which happened in 2004. It was nice to see Murphy get recognized, because too often he quietly flew under a lot of people's radar. He had a unique game where he didn't really stand out a lot, but by the end of the year he was always amongst the top scorers among defensemen in the league.

I do not think most people truly appreciated Larry Murphy. Casual fans and observers from afar did not get to watch him enough to truly appreciate the intricacies of his game. Even fans who did watch him regularly didn't always value him, as fans in both Washington and Toronto booed him out of each city.

Murphy was more of a passer than a rusher, preferring to pinch into the offensive zone while expertly manning the point. He was one of the best I have ever seen at holding the blue line, almost always blocking mad clearing attempts by desperate defensive teams. He was a great skater in his younger days, and possessed an excellent collection of shots.

Though he had good size, he never really played a physical game. He would bump his check off the puck rather than make strong takeouts. He relied on an heady stick checking defensive game that he excelled at due to his great hockey sense, ability to read the oncoming attack, and his flawless positioning.

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