In Toronto, it was quite evident when Larry Murphy was bringing the puck up the ice. All you needed to do was listen to the boos.
It was March, 1997, and Murphy, the veteran defenseman who already had his name inscribed twice on the Stanley Cup, was playing for a bad Maple Leafs team. The fan base, for reasons unclear, chose to use Murphy as its whipping boy for the team’s travails.
Murphy, 36 years old at the time, was treated viciously by frustrated Leafs fans who were staring down the barrel of a playoff-less year for the first time since 1992.
The Red Wings swept in and essentially stole Murphy from the Maple Leafs at the trade deadline in 1997. The trade is officially listed as Murphy to Detroit for “future considerations” at Hockey-Reference.com.
What those future considerations turned out to be, no one seems to know.
Murphy joined the Red Wings, escaping the hell in Toronto, and helped Detroit snap a 42-year Stanley Cup drought less than three months later. A year hence, Murphy and the Red Wings won another Cup—Murphy’s fourth.
Back in 2007, on the night the Red Wings retired Steve Yzerman’s number, I saw Murphy in the team’s Alumni Suite at Joe Louis Arena. And I asked him what went wrong in Toronto.
He shrugged and wasn’t bothered by it, even if he couldn’t explain it.
“Ah, fans will be fans,” he told me, clearly having forgiven the Leafs faithful who booed him unmercifully ten years prior.
“It worked out pretty well,” he added with a grin.
Today’s NHL trade deadline is likely to come and go without the Red Wings making a move, despite their rather desperate situation—veteran stars injured and having to rely on kids to extend their playoff streak to 23 years.
The Red Wings are likely to stand pat because of that youth, which is serving them well now and figures to do so for many years to come. Unlike the Cup-winning teams from 1997, 1998, 2002 and 2008, today’s Wings team embraces its young players rather than seriously considering using them as bargaining chips.
Gone are the days of when Murphy was acquired, which was in the heyday of Red Wings GM Ken Holland trading little-known, little-used, little-needed players, re: young guys, for capable veterans.
The Red Wings want into the playoffs, of course, but not at the expense of a cache of players like Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Gustav Nyquist and Riley Sheahan, which other teams are going to want Detroit to package to acquire someone like Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler or Buffalo defenseman Christian Ehrhoff.
The deadline is at 3:00 p.m. today. Stay tuned, but not with the same anticipation of years gone by.