Toronto spent a 2nd round pick on him, turned him pro, nurtured him through the tough times showing a great deal of patience. And then, just as he was ready, they pushed him to the curb.
BEFORE THE DRAFT
Selected in the 2nd round, 25th overall by Toronto in the 1980 Entry Draft
Craig Muni was a solid defensive prospect with a nice range of skills. Good size, he could move the puck with effective headman passes, and was known as a tough defender and a devastating hitter. His offense didn’t come with him to the NHL, but that’s fairly typical for defensemen who arrive in pro hockey and don’t play a lot of powerplay minutes. In spring 1980, Muni was a pretty good NHL prospect and was taken 25th overall by his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a dream come true, without the happy ending.
- Muni: “That was the start of the dream, but because of different circumstances, things didn’t work out in Toronto. I was drafted by Punch Imlach and my first training camp he had a heart attack and never came back to his job as the General Manager. There was some changing and shifting of everything in the organization at that time. Then the year I was supposed to make the team, or have an opportunity to make the team, I hurt my knee in the junior camp before the NHL camp opened up and I didn’t get back until halfway through the season.”
Muni played 4 full AHL seasons (with cups of coffee in the NHL here and there) and didn’t feel like he was getting anywhere.
- Muni: “It was tough. When you are in the minors, it can get frustrating because we all believe that we are good enough to play at the NHL level. You wonder when you will get the chance or an opportunity, but then it’s on a one game basis or they put you on the wrong line or in the wrong situation; you are not in a situation where you can succeed. I guess it happened then and it still happens now.”
Eventually, Muni became eligible for free agency (he had completed several minor league seasons with the same organization and hadn’t played enough in the NHL for Toronto to retain his rights) and had the opportunity to test free agency.
Muni: “When we met with teams that summer, there were about six or eight organizations that were interested, but the only thing I wanted was a guarantee from them that I would play in at least half of the exhibition games. During my four years with Toronto, I think I only played in about three exhibition games in that whole time and to me, that wasn’t an opportunity or a chance to really make the team. Of all the teams we talked to, Glen Sather was the only one that said he would give me his word on a handshake that I would. Sure enough, I played in half the games and I made the team – I wasn’t slated to make the team but I did!”
ROSTER SPACE ODDITY
After signing with the Oilers, and making the team, there was still one more hurdle. The waiver draft. Edmonton had a talented young winger (Raimo Summanen) they wanted to protect, but Muni’s performance was so strong (this was fall 1986) they didn’t want to lose him either. So, this was the backdrop for one of the craziest transactions in league history. During the first week of October 1986, Muni was the property of four NHL teams. The odyssey began when Edmonton sold his rights to Buffalo on Oct. 2. The following day, Buffalo sold Muni’s rights to Pittsburgh. Three days later, the Penguins returned Muni to Edmonton to complete a Sept. 11, 1985, trade in which Edmonton had traded Gilles Meloche to Pittsburgh in exchange for Marty McSorley, Tim Hrynewich and future considerations. Muni became the future considerations in that trade. Follow? Me either. Glen Sather was filthy.
- Stanley Cups: 3 (1987, 1988, 1990)
- Edmonton Defenseman of Year: 1989-90
- Drew criticism throughout his NHL career for low hits that led to several opponents’ knee injuries
Muni as a player was a crowd favorite, and along with men like Lee Fogolin established the "ideal" defenseman in the eyes of Oiler fans. It’s a working class city with a working class fanbase, and Muni–with his thunderous hits, shot blocking ability, tireless penalty-killing and gritty style–is remembered fondly to this day in Edmonton.
For four seasons from the fall of 1981 to the spring of 1986, Craig Muni was part of the Toronto Maple Leaf organization, but playing in only 19 games it was not what Muni had dreamed about. During his final season in Toronto, playing in only a handful of games, Muni along with his teammates were playing the fast flying Edmonton Oilers. Whatever Muni did that night, impressed Glen Sather and the rest of the Oilers staff, that they signed him as a free agent in the summer of 1986.
But during that summer Muni although never played a game as a member of four different teams thanks to trades etc, but ended up back in Edmonton for opening night at the Northlands Coliseum. The next few seasons are what dreams are made of. Craig Muni became a mainstay on the Oilers defence thanks to a lot of hard work and a little luck, but along with both of them, he saw his name engraved on the Stanley Cup three times over the next four seasons. For seven seasons, Muni took a regular shift on defence with the mighty Edmonton Oilers.
Following the 1993 season, Muni spent the next five seasons with five different NHL clubs including Chicago, Buffalo, Winnipeg, Pittsburgh and finally Dallas before retiring from his dream after the 1997-98 hockey season.
Reliable, dependable, hard working, strong and rugged defender, anything to prevent a goal. The things that Craig Muni represented are the things Edmonton Oiler fans value the most among their defensemen. Craig Muni scored 24 goals as an Edmonton Oiler, but was a menace to opponents at the other end of the ice. For that, he has a place among the very best defensemen to play for the hockey club.
*quotes and other information from this article.