No player has ever made as a spectacular a debut in the NHL as Don Murdoch, the New York Rangers’ number-one draft choice in 1976. Murdoch scored eight goals in the first three games, including five in one game, to tie a rookie record.
Halfway through his rookie season, he had 32 goals. He was well on his way to a record number of goals by rookie. The ankle injuries kept him sidelined for several games, costing him the record and rookie-of-the-year honors.
However, his fast start made them an instant celebrity in Manhattan. Ranger fans called him “Murder” Murdoch, and at the bars and discos people bought them drinks and offered him other temptations. It wasn’t long before he became a kid with a drinking problem and, in time, a kid with a drug problem.
Later Murdoch would say, “I was in the limelight and my life was moving so fast I didn’t even know where I was going. I fell in with the wrong crowd, and that was a big mistake.”
After Murdoch’s second season, on his way home to Cranbrook B.C., a small amount of cocaine was found in his suitcase by custom agents in Toronto. Murdoch was arrested and charged with possession. In court, he was given a suspended sentence and fined $400. But NHL president John Ziegler wanted to make an example of Murdoch. As a warning to other players to stay clear of drugs, he suspended the Ranger sniper for a year.
Eventually, Murdoch’s case came up for review and Ziegler lifted the suspension after 40 games. Ziegler said he hoped Murdoch had put his past difficulties behind him and that he would resume his career, one that showed so much promise.
Murdoch was delighted to get a second chance and couldn’t wait to show his fans that his off-ice problems were behind him. But he never recaptured the form that made him a rookie sensation and the toast of New York. After the Rangers cooled on him, he had stops in Detroit and Edmonton before drifting off to the minors.