- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 10, 2004

If there were a Hall of Fame exclusively for professional players who acknowledged mistakes after particularly bad losses, the room housing it would not be much bigger than a phone booth.

When a team gets clobbered 9-1 at home, an empty dressing room is almost a guarantee when the press comes barging in. The players exit through a back door to avoid the inevitable “what happened?” questions.

Larry Murphy, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto on Monday night, was different. When he had a bad game, the defenseman would be sitting in his corner stall, uniform still in place and soft drink in hand, when reporters showed up.

“Come on, let’s get it over with,” he would say before offering his rationale for what had happened. Usually it involved a fairly decent explanation, and more than a few times Murphy was covering for someone else.

In other words, Murphy was man enough to own up to his or his team’s mistakes even though he knew he would be fried in the papers the next day. He was an easy target, and the press often took advantage.

That was the problem — he was too easy a target. Murphy didn’t make anywhere near the number of mistakes Caps fans blamed on him. And when he did make one, it was in such a manner that it was impossible to miss. Murphy’s blunders couldn’t have stood out any bigger had he and his teammates choreographed the sequence.

Murphy, who played for six teams and won four Stanley Cup rings, entered the Hall of Fame as part of what has been billed the greatest class of defensemen ever — Raymond Bourque and Paul Coffey went in with him — although four of the teams he played for gave up on him. He was booed out of town in Los Angeles, Washington, Minnesota and Toronto.

In Murphy (and Coffey, for that matter), you got what you saw. Murphy was no Rod Langway — a rough, tough defender who physically could and would move an opposing forward to the parking lot — but he could contribute just as much in other ways. Murphy did not have Coffey’s speed (nor did anybody else in their day), so he had to use his head to plot a quicker, more direct path to the objective.

Murphy and Bourque shared an even more valuable gift: the ability to see the ice as few others could, to be able to pinpoint where a teammate would end up and deliver the puck where it had to be.

“What surprised us was the way Murphy played defensively,” Scotty Bowman, the winningest coach in NHL history, told the Hockey News recently. “When we got him, we thought as long as we didn’t use him against the opposition’s top lines, we’d be OK. … [But] we used him against the top guys all the time, and he was terrific.”

Bowman coached Murphy in Pittsburgh, where they won two Cups, and again in Detroit, where Murphy won two more.

In Washington, Murphy was part of a defense the franchise might never match. Two members — Langway and now Murphy — are in the Hall, and a third, Scott Stevens, is a sure bet to end up there. Throw in Kevin Hatcher and there are four top flight defenders from any decade.

Murphy’s problem here and elsewhere may have been his skating, so bad it was impossible to miss. He was dreadfully slow and often gave the impression he wasn’t sure where he was going. In truth, he usually was giving teammates a chance to get into better position to receive a pass, but there were times when he would lose the puck or have it taken away, factors that were hard to ignore.

Point out that Murphy was plus-200 defensively in his career (1,615 games) and many fans will question the statistic. Point out that Murphy was plus-57 with the Caps and many fans will ask for a recount.

There is no disputing Murphy was one of the most underappreciated and underrated players in league history. But having a guy like Scotty Bowman in your corner goes a long way toward turning a lot of unwarranted boos into cheers.

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