COHEN’S KINGS CATASTROPHES – CHAPTER 6
Last week we celebrated the 35th Anniversary of the Kings trading the opportunity to draft a Hall of Fame defenceman. This week we celebrate the 30th Anniversary of the Kings trading away a Hall of Fame defenceman they had already drafted. There must have been a law or something.
CHAPTER SIX : Murphy’s Law
Despite beating the imposing Oilers in the Miracle on Manchester in the 1982 playoffs, the Kings failed to make the playoffs in the 1982-1983 season and started the 1983-1984 season with low expectations.
The Kings made a handful of roster changes in the off season and on October 3rd, two days before the start of the season, they traded their Team Captain, Dave Lewis. They started the season 0-4-2.
WHAT THE KINGS DID
On October 18th, 1983 the Los Angeles Kings traded Larry Murphy to the Washington Capitals for Brian Engblom and Ken Houston.
WHY IT LOOKED LIKE A GOOD MOVE
Despite setting a record for most points as a rookie defenceman in the 1980-1981 season, the team felt Murphy’s play had dropped off the following two seasons and he had clashed with both General Manager George Maguire and Coach Don Perry.
Brian Engblom was a well regarded defenceman who had spent the first five seasons of his career with the Montreal Canadiens. He played every game in their 1979 Stanley Cup run and was an NHL Second Team All Star in 1982 when he was an astonishing +78. There were some in Montreal who felt the Canadiens had made a serious error in trading him to the Capitals in 1982.
Engblom’s offensive numbers were no match for Murphy’s but the Kings were hoping he could replace some of the defensive play of recently traded Dave Lewis.
Ken Houston was a perennial 20 goal scorer during his 8 year career, with the Atlanta/Calgary Flames and the Washington Capitals, and was an offensive force in the 1981 playoffs despite missing half the season due to health issues.
WHY IT WAS A TERRIBLE MOVE
I mentioned that Larry Murphy set the NHL record for points by a rookie defenceman right?
Murphy’s offensive production hardly fell off the map in the next two seasons.
Offensive production isn’t everything however and Murphy had been accused of attitude problems and lack of effort. If only there were some way of asking Murphy why things went sour in LA.
Audio excerpt from Kings Kronicles Podcast.
For those that can’t listen to the file, Larry Murphy explains that he had gone to salary arbitration after his first contract was up. The arbitrator heard from Murphy and General Manager George Maguire and came back with a number that was actually lower than what the Kings had wanted to pay Murphy. Murphy had already struggled with the role expected of him by new coach Don Perry and told Maguire he wouldn’t play for what the arbitrator had ruled and that they might as well trade him.
Financial motivations for trading young star players does not a terrible trade make but meager returns certainly help.
Ken Houston failed to score 20 goals in a full season only once in his career before becoming a Los Angeles King. That was the 1980-1981 season. The season he contracted Hepatitis. While he managed to play two full seasons after that and scored 47 goals for the Flames and Capitals, he played only 33 games for the Kings before being released and retiring in 1984.
Hepatitis. Seriously. You guys. Hepatitis.
Brian Engblom was brought in to shore up the defense but it was a necessity created by other ill advised trades. He performed well enough in a Kings uniform but as always, a side by side comparison of what the Kings gained and what the Kings lost reveals just how lopsided this trade was.
WHAT THE KINGS SHOULD HAVE DONE
The Kings should have paid Larry Murphy and fired GM George Maguire and Coach Don Perry at the end of the 1982-1983 season.
Maguire and Perry were both replaced by Rogie Vachon during the 1983-1984 season. Perry was fired January 27th while Maguire lasted an extra three days and was fired on January 30th.
Maguire and Perry had no other previous or subsequent experience as General Manager or Coach of an NHL team.
HOW IT WOULD LOOK TODAY
The Los Angeles Kings traded a gifted offensive defenceman, who was a top 5 pick in his draft, after three seasons because he expected a significant pay raise. They traded him for a winger that would only play 33 games for them before retiring and a defenceman who would give them two and a half decent seasons before being packaged in a trade for more mediocrity.
If it happened in 2011 the Kings would have traded Drew Doughty for Trevor Daley and Eric Nystrom.
HOW IT LOOKS IN HINDSIGHT
From Pete Weber, former LA Kings Color Commentator and Current Predators Play By Play Announcer:
It was October 18, 1983. The Washington Capitals made a two-for-one trade with the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings received a rugged, six-time twenty-goal scorer in Right Wing Ken Houston and a classic stay-at-home Defenseman in Brian Engblom.
Engblom would play 202 games for the Kings, who made it to the playoffs once in that span. He would total another 62 games with the Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames. His best days were behind him – as he was part of three Stanley Cup winners (1977-79) with the Montreal Canadiens.
Ken Houston’s career would end after that 1983-84 season. He played just 33 games afterward, and then retired.
The problem for the Kings was the man they gave up. Larry Murphy was a rarity at the time – arriving in Los Angeles as a first-round pick the team kept! In 1980-81, he set a scoring record for NHL rookie defensemen with 16 goals and 76 points.
To be fair, who could have foreseen that Murphy would go on to play another 1353 games with Washington, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Toronto and Detroit? He was an important part of both of the Stanley Cups won by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992. He went home to Toronto (allegedly to finish out his career) in 1995, only to get booed out of town for being too slow, though he was still productive.
The booing faithful at Maple Leaf Gardens helped move Murphy along to his five final NHL seasons with the Detroit Red Wings. That’s where he was part of another set of back-to-back Cup winners in 1997 and 1998 – the last time a team repeated in the NHL.
We could pile on General Manager George Maguire for this trade, but he obviously was not alone in his judgment.
In 1989, Washington Capitals’ General Manager David Poile sent Murphy, along with Mike Gartner, to Minnesota for Dino Ciccarelli and Bob Rouse. (That’s two Hockey Hall of Fames for one).
In December of 1990, Minnesota North Stars’ General Manager Bobby Clarke sent Murphy, along with Peter Taglianetti to Pittsburgh for Chris Dahlquist and Jim Johnson. (Aside from Clarke, Murphy was the only Hall of Famer in that deal).
In July of 1995, Pittsburgh General Manager Craig Patrick trade Larry to Toronto for Dmitri Mironov and a 2nd-round pick in 1996. Mironov is not likely to make the Hall, and no one in the second round of the 1996 draft will.
Murphy’s final move was engineered between two old friends, both Hall of Famers: Toronto General Manager Cliff Fletcher and Detroit Wings GM and Coach Scotty Bowman. All Toronto received in that deal was the old stand-by “future considerations.”
So, what was the difference between this and the trade for Ron Grahame? That trade which resulted in Ray Bourque becoming a Bruin? Murphy had played well for three-plus seasons for the Kings. He was a known quantity. The Kings had no idea of whom the Bruins would draft, nor obviously how he would turn out!
In a way, Larry Murphy is hockey’s version of Doug Flutie. He might not possess all the “measurables,” but all he did was win, score, then win some more. This is a case where the Kings were just at the start of a curious collection of moves, and the beneficiary of those moves was always the team that landed Larry Murphy!
Two and a half seasons of “not as good as he used to be” Brian Engblom
Larry Murphy’s career
Between the years of 1967 and 1978, the Los Angeles Kings only drafted in the 1st Round of the NHL Entry Draft three times (and the second round only five times). Rick Pagnutti (1967) and Jim McInally (1968) failed to make the NHL while Tim Young (1975) was traded to Minnesota before ever playing a game for the Kings. Young would go on to play 628 games in the NHL and led the Minnesota North Stars in scoring his first two years in the NHL.
Despite trading away the draft pick that would become Ray Bourque, discussed here last week, the Kings had four 1st Round draft picks between 1979 and 1981. Those four picks were Jay Wells, Larry Murphy, Jim Fox and Doug Smith. All four played for the Kings in the Miracle on Manchester.
Trading Larry Murphy for two more humdrum veterans past their prime was just one more emotional pebble in the avalanche of disgust Kings fans felt about George Maguire’s tenure.
WHO’S TO BLAME
General Manager George Maguire
Owner Dr. Jerry Buss
It’s difficult to isolate the trade of Larry Murphy from the flurry of terrible moves made by the Kings during this era but I think this picture sums it up nicely.
George Maguire was replaced by Rogie Vachon as General Manager in the middle of the 1983-1984 Season.
When Brian Engblom traded in his skates for a microphone he also traded in his moustache for a mullet. Engblom was the Kings radio color commentator from the 91-92 season through the 94-95 Season and Kings fans were in on the ground floor to witness the evolution of Engblom as a broadcaster and as a follicular oddity.
ROYAL REPUGNANCE RATING
(on a scale of -99 to +99)