Editor’s Note: In homage to “Who Wore it Best?” the NHL-produced series featured on both NHL.com and the league’s broadcast partners, JFTC continues its regular feature highlighting the top players to wear each sweater number in Los Angeles Kings’ franchise history. Check back to our first edition for a discussion of the selection process.
Continuing the trend which saw only one forward represented among the 80 players in Kings’ history to wear nos. 1 through 4, all 20 players who have donned the no. 5 sweater for Los Angeles have been defenseman.
Three different players wore the no. 5 during the team’s inaugural 1967-68 season. Dave Amadio was the first player to wear the no. 5 sweater, beginning with opening night against the Philadelphia Flyers. However, Amadio temporarily relinquished the sweater following a December 27, 1967 loss at St. Louis, enabling Larry Johnston to wear the number for the Kings’ first-ever game at the Fabulous Forum three nights later. Johnson wore no. 5 for three additional games before returning it back to Amadio prior to another meetup with the Blues. However, after that game Amadio yielded the jersey (shout out to our American readers) to Brent Hughes, settling on the no. 3.
The last Kings’ player to wear no. 5 was Christian Folin, who appeared in 65 games for the Kings during the 2017-2018 season. The sweater, however, has not been worn since, remaining unused the last two seasons. Six different birth countries are represented among Kings’ players to have worn the no. 5. Ten were born in Canada, two in the United States, and one each in Sweden (Folin), Switzerland (Mark Hardy), Finland (Aki Berg) and the Czech Republic (Tomas Zizka).
Mark Hardy played 616 games career games for the Kings, placing him fourth all-time among franchise defenseman. However, Hardy wore four different sweater numbers over the 11 seasons he laced them up for Los Angeles. Initially called to the big club during the 1979-80 season, Hardy made 15 appearances wearing the number 26. The following season Hardy changed to no. 20, which had been previously worn by Bob Murdoch. Hardy wore no. 20 until midway through the 1985-86 campaign when he changed to the no. 5 sweater after Brian Engblom was traded midseason to Buffalo.
(Fun Fact No. 1: Englblom was traded during the middle of a roadtrip. Hardy finished out the three remaining games on the trip wearing no. 20. He did not actually wear no. 5 until the team returned to Los Angeles for a February 8, 1986 home win against the Islanders.)
Hardy wore the no. 5 sweater until being traded to the Rangers in February, 1988. By the time he returned to LA for the 1992-93 stretch run, Luc Robitaille was wearing no. 20 (Fun fact No. 2: Larry Playfair briefly wore no. 20 between Hardy and Luc).
Thus, while Hardy holds franchise records in many categories among players who have worn no. 5 for the Kings, he does not top those leaderboards among players while wearing number 5. Discounting Hardy’s performance with the Kings while wearing a number other than the no. 5, the all-time franchise leader in games played wearing the no. 5 sweater is Bob Murdoch, who played 414 games over six seasons with the club.
For the same reason, Murdoch leads no. 5’s with 497 penalty minutes. Additionally, Murdoch’s plus-29 in 1974-75 is not only the best single-season plus/minus rating earned by any Kings player while wearing the no. 5., his career +80 plus/minus rating places him first career-wise among all defenseman on the team’s all-time career plus/minus list.
Larry Murphy, who launched his Hall of Fame NHL career wearing the Kings’ no. 5 sweater for three seasons before being traded to Washington holds the top position among Kings’ no. 5’s in goals (51), assists (155), points (207) and goals per game (.215). During his rookie campaign in 1980-81 Murphy was voted runner-up in Calder Trophy balloting after posting a still-standing NHL rookie defenseman record of 76 points. He also came in seventh place in Norris Trophy balloting.
Who wore No. 5 best?
Bob Murdoch (1973-1976)
As noted in JFTC’s original installment of “Who Wore it Best: LA Kings Edition”, the selection criteria in ranking the “best” player to wear each number for the Kings considers only his performance while playing for Los Angeles, and not for his NHL “body of work” (i.e. Larry Murphy). Similarly, if a player wore multiple sweater numbers over his Kings career (i.e. Mark Hardy), his performance was judged separately while wearing each particular number, and not for his overall performance with the hockey club.
Sure, someone just checking the stats or doing a Google search may automatically be drawn to Larry Murphy as the king of Kings when it comes to the no. 5. However, hockey is much more than goals, assists and points. It’s about teamwork and toughness, and no other era greater exemplifies that ethos than the 1970s. Because there is so much more to a successful hockey player than what shows up in the stat sheet, my selectee is Bob Murdoch, who patrolled the Forum blueline from 1973-74 until being traded to the Atlanta Flames in January 1979.
An effective stay-at-home defenseman, Murdoch was known for blocking shots and taking away cross-crease passes. Though the NHL did not officially track blocked shots or takeaways during his career, Hockey-Reference recognizes Murdoch’s effectiveness in these defensive fundamentals by placing him third league-wide in defensive points shares (DPS) in 1974-75, and ninth-league wide in 1976-77.
His 7.3 DPS in 1974-75 ties him with Drew Doughty for best single-season DPS among all Kings’ defenseman. He is also sixth all-time among all Kings in DPS (for comparison’s sake Drew Doughty is first and Dustin Brown ninth.) He also ranks first in both shots and penalty minutes by a Kings player while wearing no. 5 (again discounting Hardy’s stats while wearing other sweaters), as well as second in goals.
Notably, during the 1976 playoffs, Murdoch assisted on this Butch Goring overtime goal to beat the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the quarterfinals, ending what was, to that date, the longest game in Kings history.
Murdoch grew up in Larder Lake, a half-hour outside hockey hotbed Kirkland Lake, Ontario. The son of one of Canada’s most successful rental car franchise owners, he took the still unusual route to the NHL of forsaking both junior hockey and the NCAA, choosing to play for the University of Waterloo. Upon graduating from Waterloo in 1968 with a dual degree in Mathematics and Physical Education, he joined the Canadian National Team, in hopes of playing in the Olympics. However when Canada announced it was boycotting the 1972 Sapporo hockey tournament after a dispute with the IIHF over the definition of “amateurism,” he signed with the Montreal Canadiens as a free agent.
After toiling in the minors a few season, Murdoch joined the Habs, reuniting with former Team Canada roommate Ken Dryden. After winning two Stanley Cups in three years with Montreal, Murdoch was traded to Los Angeles along with Randy Rota in exchange for a 1974 first-round draft choice (Mario Tremblay).
Upon retirement, Murdoch went into coaching. His first NHL head coaching position was with the Chicago Blackhawks during the 1987–88 season, compiling a record of 30–41–9, before being replaced. Prior to the the 1989–1990 season, Murdoch was named the head coach of the original Winnipeg Jets. After missing the playoffs the previous season, he lead the Jets back into the postseason and was awarded the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year.
Unfortunately, the Jets fell to the division cellar the following year, at which time Murdoch was involuntarily set free from the plains of Manitoba. He then served as associate coach of the San Jose Sharks for two seasons before departing for Europe, where he continues to coach.
Do you agree or disagree with the selection of Bob Murdoch as the Kings’ “No. 1 of No. 5s?” Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below or hit up Mark on Twitter at @DevoreOnSports. Stay safe, and as always, Go Kings Go!