(This article was originally published on Dec. 21, 2020.)
After arguably the best individual season in BCHL history, Stanley Cup winner Joe Murphy’s hockey career is like nothing out of the norm.
The London, Ontario native and his family moved across the country and settled in North Vancouver when he was a teenager. On the heels of joining the Penticton Knights, he lit the way at the North Shore Winter Club.
He moved to the Peach City in the 1984-85 season, which was a blessing for a team that just lost future Hockey Hall of Famer Brett Hull to the NCAA.
Murphy’s presence on the Knights was electrifying. A leader despite not wearing a letter on his chest, Murphy had a ridiculous 68 goals and 84 assists for 152 points in just 51 games.
Team and individual accolades arrived like a cheetah running for its prey. Murphy helped Penticton win the Ron Boileau award for the best regular-season record, plus the BCHL finals, the Mowat Cup, Doyle Cup, Abbott Cup, and reach the final of the Centennial Cup, only to fall to the Orillia Travelways. He also claimed BCHL rookie of the year.
His only season in the BCHL was a remarkable one. After leaving his mark in BC, Murphy flew south to Michigan State University and joined the Spartans for the 1985-86 season.
He was named NCAA rookie of the year and won silver with Canada at the World Juniors. A highly touted prospect, Murphy was gunning to become the first overall pick in the 1986 NHL Draft, and registering 24 goals and 37 assists in 35 NCAA games made that possible.
Murphy was the first player from the NCAA to be selected first overall. Chosen by the Detroit Red Wings in 1986, the fast and powerful forward was poised to have an incredible NHL career.
Welcome to the NHL
Murphy’s NHL journey started a little rocky. He spent the bulk of 1986-87 with the Red Wings farm team, the Adirondack Red Wings of the American Hockey League.
Playing five games in the NHL that year, Murphy had just one point to show for it. He spent four years with the Detroit organization, collecting air miles from the NHL to the AHL. Murphy did get into 90 NHL games and had a rather disappointing 32 points.
However, Murphy did capture the Calder Cup in the 1988-89 season before getting shipped to Edmonton in an early-season trade in 1989-90. Murphy’s NHL career took off once he left the Red Wings, as he never went back to the AHL.
Back in Canada, Murphy faced a fresh state. Playing in 62 games since the trade to the Oilers, Murphy posted 25 points. It was clearly a trade that benefited him since that same year, Murphy formed a potent line with Adam Graves and Martin Gelinas to help lead Edmonton to a Stanley Cup. He played an important role for the Oilers and registered 14 points in 22 playoff games.
Murphy spent three years in Edmonton, playing in 222 games with 169 points. Seeing his points increase season by season, Murphy had a career-high 82 points in 80 games in 1991-92, his final year with the Oilers.
The 1992-93 season saw a new chapter in Murphy’s career after a contract dispute with the Oilers and subsequent trade to Chicago in a February 1993 trade. In 1993-94, his first full season with the Blackhawks, he had 70 points. After four seasons with the Hawks, Murphy and the team parted ways and he headed into free agency,
Signing a three-year deal in the Show-Me State, Murphy’s play declined with the Blues. After a disappointing 1996-97 season and a slow start to the 1997-98 season, St. Louis traded Murphy to the San Jose Sharks. They hoped he rekindled his magic from the Oilers and Blackhawks.
The star has fallen
His first full and only season in San Jose saw Murphy have a bounce-back year, not in the 70-or-80 point range, but a modest 48. However, he could not come to terms with the Sharks or anyone else in the league when July 1, 1999, rolled around.
Not finding any suitors, Murphy signed a try-out with the New York Rangers. However, a week after joining the Rangers, the Boston Bruins came calling and he was off to Beantown.
The turmoil started to hit Murphy when he clashed with Bruins legendary coach Pat Burns, allegedly screaming profanities at the future Hall of Famer, and was suspended indefinitely. Unable to find a trade partner, Boston placed Murphy on waivers, and the Washington Capitals put in a claim.
Murphy played in 43 games with the Capitals over the course of two seasons. He got into an altercation with a woman during a road game in New York and was sent down to the AHL. Murphy didn’t report to the minors and ended his pro hockey career.
The former first overall selection played 15 years in the NHL. He played 779 games, amassed 528 points and collected a whole bunch of trophies during his entire hockey journey, but now Murphy is in an entirely different situation.
Murphy has been through a lot since his playing days. He was on top of the hockey world at a young age and had huge expectations as a first overall pick.
The game took its toll on him. Unable to find work and unwilling to seek help, according to a 2018 TSN documentary titled Finding Murph, Murphy is now homeless and roams the streets of Kenora, Ontario.
He turned to drugs and made some poor choices along the way. It’s been quite a fall from grace for one of the best ever to wear a Penticton jersey in the BCHL.