The current generation of Capitals fans are very familiar with the exploits of left winger Alex Ovechkin who wears No. 8 on his jersey and will likely one day be elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame. They also became very familiar with a defenseman with great offensive skills who played for the Caps for 10 seasons in Mike Green. But a generation ago, there was another player for the Washington Capitals who wore No. 8 on his sweater and eventually made the Hall of Fame.
This player was also a defenseman with great offensive skills. This was Larry Murphy, who had a long NHL career, spending more seasons in Washington than with any other NHL team.
Lawrence Thomas Murphy was born March 8, 1961, in Whitby, Ontario, but was raised in nearby Scarborough, Ontario. He had one older brother. In addition to caring for Larry and his brother, his parents cared for foster children. Murphy grew up as a Toronto Maple Leafs fan during a period in which they won four Stanley Cups.
In a 1971 news article, a 10-year old Murphy uttered words that proved prophetic in the long run, “Davey Keon is my favorite player, but I like to hit like Bobby Baun so maybe I’ll play defense for the Leafs one day.”
His road to a career in hockey got off to a rough start, as he was cut from Minor Atom league teams three times and from Bantam league teams three times. It was especially harder for him because he was small, but he kept working hard. During his early days of playing hockey, he was switched back and forth between playing forward and defense, but finally settled as a defenseman for the Canadian Midget champion Don Mills Flyers in 1977-78. The next year (1978-79), he played with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, scoring six goals and adding 21 assists. He played one more year (1979-80) with Peterborough and this time, blossomed offensively, scoring 21 goals and adding 68 assists for a total of 89 points. That season, he also represented Canada at the World Junior Championships.
The Los Angeles Kings drafted him in the first round (fourth overall) in the 1980 NHL Entry Draft and he jumped directly the NHL for the following season (1980-81). He admitted to having culture shock with the transition from suburban Canada to the bright lights of Los Angeles when seeing things such as burnt out cars on the side of the road, along with the realization that he’d be playing with and against players he had admired when watching “Hockey Night in Canada”. But even in his first season with the Kings, he proved his offensive output from his last year of junior hockey was no fluke. That year, he had 16 goals and 60 assists for 76 points overall, setting records for the most assists and most points by a rookie defenseman. He played two more full seasons with the Kings, scoring 22 goals and 44 assists in 1981-82, and 14 goals and 48 assists in 1982-83.
Early in the 1983-84 season, the Kings traded him to the Washington Capitals in exchange for defensemen Brian Engblom and Ken Houston. He played nearly six seasons in Washington, until a late season trade during the 1988-89 season to the Minnesota North Stars. With the Caps, he had two seasons (1983-84 and 1984-85) in which he scored 13 goals. He followed that up with a 21-goal and 44-assist season in 1985-86, and a 23-goal, 58-assist season in 1986-87. During his nearly six-season stint with the Caps, he recorded 85 goals, 259 assists, and 344 total points, which remain the highest totals he had accumulated with any team. The Caps made the playoffs in each of the five seasons he had finished with the team. He scored nine goals and had 17 assists in 42 postseason games with the Caps.
He was traded to the Minnesota North Stars on March 9, 1989, as part of a blockbuster deal that saw the Caps send Murphy and Mike Gartner to Minnesota in exchange for Dino Ciccarelli and Bob Rouse. He played for the North Stars until December 11, 1990, when he was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins. After that, he played four years with the Pittsburgh Penguins, two years with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and concluded his career with the Detroit Red Wings, playing with them for just over four seasons. He continued his prodigious offensive output with the Penguins, scoring over 20 goals twice in two out of his four seasons in Pittsburgh. He was part of four Stanley Cup-winning teams, two with Pittsburgh (1990-91 and 1991-92), and two with Detroit (1996-97 and 1997-98). At the time of his retirement, he had the following career milestones: second in games played by a defenseman, third in assists, and third in points overall. He finished his career with 287 goals, and 929 assists for a total of 1,216 points in 1,615 games played.
During his career, he represented Canada in international competition, including three appearances in the World Championships and two appearances in the Canada Cup. He went to three NHL All-Star games, in 1994, 1996, and 1999. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2004. After his playing career ended, he was a color analyst on Fox Sports Detroit, participating in pre-game, in-game, and post-game activities, until being let go in 2013. He participated in alumni activities for his former teams, representing the Penguins in an alumni game before the 2011 Winter Classic in Pittsburgh, and was one of the Caps’ alumni participating in pre-festivity activities before the 2015 Winter Classic in Washington, DC.
By Diane Doyle
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