Hall Of Famer Larry Murphy: The LA Kings’ First Offensive Defenseman
March 19, 2015 1 Comment
LA KINGS HISTORY: Defenseman Larry Murphy won four Stanley Cup Championships, two with the Pittsburgh Penguins, and two with the Detroit Red Wings, in a 21-year National Hockey League career that culminated in his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004. But fewer and fewer people remember that Murphy began his NHL career with the Los Angeles Kings in 1980. In the first installment of a series based on exclusive interviews, Frozen Royalty looks back at Murphy’s time with the Kings.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — Many may know Larry Murphy from his work on Detroit Red Wings broadcasts before he left Fox Sports Detroit a couple of years ago, or maybe you saw him as an analyst in spot duty on the NHL Network.
Older hockey fans might remember Murphy as a player, most recently with the Red Wings. He also played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota North Stars and the Washington Capitals.
Many Kings fans are likely to be unfamiliar with Murphy since he spent the vast majority of his career playing for teams based in the Eastern time zone. But Murphy started his National Hockey League career with the Los Angeles Kings, who selected him in the first round (fourth overall) of the 1980 NHL Entry Draft.
Given that he only played three seasons and six games into what would have been his fourth season with the Kings, it is easy to see how many might forget, or be unaware, that Murphy once played for the Kings.
Murphy made an immediate impact as a rookie in the 1980-81 season, scoring 16 goals and adding 60 assists for 76 points with 79 penalty minutes in 80 games. He went on to score 52 goals and contribute 155 assists for 207 points in 242 regular season games with the Kings. He also scored five goals and tallied eight assists for 13 points in 14 playoff games with the Kings.
Murphy not only made an immediate and tremendous impact upon joining the Kings, but more significantly, he was the first highly-skilled defenseman who was effective in all three zones in the history of the franchise.
Murphy was in Southern California last week to participate in the Kings’ annual Fantasy Camp, and he took time to speak with Frozen Royalty about his time with the Kings, and his storied career in the NHL, starting with his arrival in Los Angeles in 1980.
“It was quite an experience, to say the least,” he said. “I remember the ride from the airport to the hotel. I was staying at the old Airport Park Hotel, which I think, is long gone—right beside the Forum [in Inglewood, California]. I remember that I was amazed at what I was seeing. I hadn’t seen anything like it before, so culturally, it was like nothing I had ever seen before.”
“Coming to the National Hockey League, and at that time, what was interesting is that the [media] coverage is nothing like what it is today,” he added. “Coming from Ontario in Canada, all I saw was Hockey Night in Canada. I might’ve caught Los Angeles [on television] maybe twice a season. That was it, so I wasn’t familiar with the team coming here.”
“It was a new city, a new league, a big challenge, and a team that I wasn’t overly familiar with, so I was nervous to say the least.”
Los Angeles wasn’t Murphy’s first source of culture shock upon entering the NHL.
“Even crossing the border was a big shock,” said the 54-year-old native of Scarborough, Ontario. “I spent my whole life in Canada, so I had to deal with that. But once you got into the dressing room, it was all hockey. The team was run the same here as any of the other teams in the National Hockey League, at the time, so hockey-wise, it was good.”
“We didn’t have a huge following, by any means, but we had a core of very loyal fans who were very interested in hockey,” added Murphy. “We didn’t sell-out every game, but we had our fans, and we had our followers, and as I said, within the dressing room, it’s all hockey.”
Among those joining Murphy in the Kings’ 1980 draft class was former right wing and current television color commentator Jim Fox (first round, tenth overall pick), who lived with Murphy in a Manhattan Beach, California apartment.
“Away from the rink, it was a learning experience,” said Murphy. “I lived with Jim Fox and Greg Terrion. They were 20 and 19 years old. We were just finding our way. We almost blew up our apartment when we tried to light [the pilot light] on the gas water heater. It was a school of hard knocks, to say the least.”
Fox, who spent his entire ten-year NHL career with the Kings and is ninth on their all-time scoring list, has remained friends with Murphy since they shared the ice at the Forum.
“First thing that comes to mind with Larry is the off-ice [stuff], because I lived with him during my first year here,” said Fox. “We were roommates in Manhattan Beach. On the road, we were roommates. I played against him in junior, so I knew him a little bit. But it was just more developing a friendship between teammates.”
“He was a fun guy to be around,” added Fox. “He just enjoyed life, helping people. I got to know his family a little bit, so you got to know the person a little bit more.”
Back to the ice…Fox marveled at Murphy’s skill, hockey sense and durability.
“Larry might be the most underrated Hall of Famer out there,” Fox observed. “His formative years were spent here in L.A. He was second in the Calder Trophy race to [the legendary] Peter Stastny. But then, he ended up playing the most games for a defenseman, at one point. Top three all-time for games played, at one point. When you do that, you are excelling. You are forcing coaches, teams, to play you, because you’re so effective.”
“Back when he started, the numbers game wasn’t a big focus,” Fox added. “But I know plus/minus started to get some attention, and his numbers were through the roof, no matter where he went. He just seemed to be the guy who loved to have the puck, and could force the play offensively, but never got caught.”
Puck possession and smart play were among Murphy’s best assets.
“I took pride—throughout my career, I tried to be effective in all the zones, to be a guy who was out there when you’re up a goal, and who’s out there when you’re down a goal,” he said. “I tried to strive for that.”
“Playing in the National Hockey League, for a defenseman, there’s definitely a learning curve,” he added. “I played [major junior hockey] in Peterborough, a very well-coached, strong organization. Gary Green was my first coach there, and we won the Memorial Cup, and the second year, we lost in the final game. Mike Keenan was my coach—both of those guys coached in the National Hockey League. Still, there was a learning curve for me [entering the NHL].”
Murphy credited his first defensive partner with helping him learn how to play in his own zone.
“Fortunately, I played with Dave Lewis, as a partner in my first season,” Murphy noted. “I learned a lot from him. He was a good teacher, and taught by example. He was a defensive defenseman, a pure as there was, so I learned a lot about positioning and playing in your own zone. As time went on, I got a good opportunity [to play more], and with that, the opportunity to improve.”
As mentioned earlier, Murphy was the first defenseman the Kings had who was solid in his own end, but was a dangerous threat in the offensive zone as well—he was their first true offensive defenseman.
“When you look at his rookie numbers, not just as a member of the Kings, but in the NHL, it was tough to score, back then, for a defenseman,” said former Kings left wing Charlie Simmer, who was part of the famed Triple Crown Line with Marcel Dionne and Dave Taylor. “I think he could’ve really flourished [with the Kings] if he had a little more support.”
“You could see, later on in his career, how good he was, playing for the Canada Cup, for Hockey Canada, and the Stanley Cups he’s won,” added Simmer, who, like Fox, played with Murphy, and was also in town for the Kings Fantasy Camp. “He was a tremendous teammate. He never had a bad thing to say about anybody. He just went out and did his job. He was just a great player for every team he played on and you can tell by looking at the points. He’s deserving of all the accolades he’s received in his career.”
As reported earlier, Murphy played three seasons with the Kings, along with six games in the 1983-84 season.
But why just six games?
As it turns out, Murphy’s story with the Kings began as a triumph of sorts, in terms of them selecting a player of his caliber in the draft—a rather obvious anomaly for the Kings, at that time—and then having him make such a big impact. But like so many other stories during the Kings’ pre-April 2006 history, this one ended in a tragic mess, which you can read about in the next installment.
Read Part 2 Of The Larry Murphy Series
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