Photo Credit: Dryden Now and Q104

Hey, Joe…

“At first, it seems like he’s living the life of Riley. Joe Murphy works as a laborer, when he needs money, and he sleeps in a tent in a farmer’s field, when he needs shelter.”

When I read the first paragraph of a July 7 story written by Mike Aiken on Sunday, I blinked in disbelief. Not because I had any reason to doubt Aiken was writing about the same Joe Murphy who played 779 NHL regular season games, 222 of those with the Edmonton Oilers, but because I didn’t. Still, no matter how long I stared at the photo at the top of the story and read through the item again, I couldn’t reconcile what I was reading with the Joe Murphy I knew during his time with the Oilers.

Now 50, Murphy, who earned millions of dollars during NHL stops with Detroit, who selected him first overall in the 1986 Entry Draft, Edmonton, where he won the 1990 Stanley Cup, Chicago, St. Louis, San Jose, Boston and Washington before he retired in 2001, is essentially destitute and homeless, living in Kenora, Ont. The first question that popped into my head was, “What the hell happened, Joe?” I haven’t talked to or even seen Murphy in years, so I don’t know.

What I do know — what I’ve learned over the last seven months working with The Mustard Seed, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to helping the homeless here in Edmonton — is the most important questions are, “What happens next and what can we do to reach out and help?” I don’t have those answers either. To hear Aiken tell it, Murphy can be difficult to find — he doesn’t have a permanent address, doesn’t own a phone and he hasn’t been online in years. 

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“He’s hanging around the coffee shops or whatever, you know the guy is in town,” Aiken, who is the news director at Q104 radio in Kenora, told me today. “He’s just out on the street.”

Throwback Thursday: 21 years ago today, Edmonton Oilers retire Wayne Gretzky's No. 99


What we do know is that Murphy has struggled physically and mentally in the aftermath of multiple head traumas, including a fractured skull, suffered during his playing career. Murphy was part of a filing by former NHL players who were seeking a class-action lawsuit against the NHL. Murphy’s filing is here. A judge ruled against allowing the players to proceed via class action this month, meaning they’ll have to take complaints to court individually.

“It’s a very serious matter, concussions,” Murphy told Aiken. “I’ve suffered a horrific, serious concussion that debilitated me for a long time. It was tough.” And later in his career: “I was getting hit, fireflies around me all the time. Just everywhere. Even at the end of my career, I’d hit a guy and then ‘boom.’ There’d be those sparkly things all over. Very difficult.”

We also know Murphy, one of the more eccentric characters you’d meet in an NHL dressing room, had issues with teammates and coach Pat Burns during his time in Boston. The Bruins suspended him without pay in 1999-2000. Murphy, former teammates will tell you, wasn’t always the easiest guy to get along with. He played parts of two seasons with Washington after the Bruins let him go, then retired after the 2000-01 season.

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In September of 2017, Murphy pleaded guilty to a charge of mischief after he trashed a room in a low-budget motel in the Toronto area. He was sentenced to time served, given two years’ probation and ordered to pay $500 in restitution to the motel’s owner. To say the least, it’s been a bumpy road for Murphy, who made more than $15 million as a player, in the years since he retired. “He said he lost everything,” Aiken said.


I don’t know where all the money went. Is Murphy receiving the NHL pension he’s entitled to without an address or even a telephone? Has Murphy sought or received help dealing with his post-concussion issues? What I do know is this is the second story in less than a year about a former NHL player being down on his luck and homeless — the story of former enforcer Matt Johnson came to light in January of this year. Many others have struggled when their playing days are over as well.

Barrie Stafford of the Oilers’ Alumni, which was so instrumental in making Hockey Helps the Homeless in Edmonton last May a big success with its participation, learned of Murphy’s fate earlier this month. He has contacted the NHL Alumni Association. HHTH holds events right across the country, including three in the greater Toronto area in support of charitable organizations. That’s a long way from Kenora, but I’m hoping we can reach out and see if something can be done, assuming we can find Joe.

I don’t know what the hell happened to Joe Murphy, but I do know that he shouldn’t be sleeping in a tent in a farmer’s field. As is the case with every single person trying to survive on the streets in Edmonton — and every city across this country — it doesn’t matter how they got where they are. No two stories are exactly the same. What really matters is what happens next, and that we reach out and try to make a difference.

Listen to Mike Aiken’s full interview with Joe Murphy, courtesy of Kenora Online and Q104 Radio.

Real Life Podcast Episode 225 – Talking hockey and life with Harnarayan Singh

Previously by Robin Brownlee

  • Sammy27

    I hope Joe and others experiencing difficult conditions can get the support they need. I know he provided me with some memorable memories in the past playing on that kid line.

  • Rama Lama

    WOW……..I’m stunned. I can’t believe that someone like this who “had it all” could fall so far. Where is his family and friends I wonder?

    How fragile we are…….as Sting says.

    • I’m learning there’s a lot of reasons for disconnects with the support networks most people have — family, friends. Addiction is often an issue. In this case, the head injuries Joe suffered is a factor. Sometimes it’s just the passing of time and that the person struggling drops out of sight and out of mind. There are a lot of people you’d consider “successful” in life at some point who are now homeless.

  • Spydyr

    I’m pulling for you Joe. Until society forces the government to take mental injury/illness and addiction treatment seriously stories like this will flourish.

  • Abagofpucks

    This is a tragic story, Brain trauma from hits to the head is very serious and deadly. I hope somebody from the nhl or hockey alumni reach out to him and get him the help he needs.

  • WhoreableGuy


    If you’re an addict it doesn’t matter how much money you have, it will either be all spent feeding the addiction or the person will just end up dying. So the question of where did all that money go is easily answered. Here’s hoping he can get back on his feet, it won’t be easy.

  • camdog

    I knew a guy from high school he used to have migraines as a result of concussions, some were from hockey as a kid growing up. He never played pro hockey or anything like that. He may have had alcohol in the system when he decided he had enough. All I know is that his problem was physical damage to the brain, it wasn’t alcohol or drugs.

    There’s an entire chicken and egg argument with many of these ex players. What come first the alcohol/drug problem or the bleeding in the brain problem?

  • XL Lebowski

    Robin, thank you for posting this. Because of bringing Joe Murphy’s story to the forefront here on ON, you’ll be helping more people. I’ve volunteered with people in tough spots–been there myself. You could have all the millions in the world like Kate Spade or Anthony Bourdain and it doesn’t equate to happiness. Hoping for good things for Joe Murphy and other NHLers down on their luck. And, really all who just need a bit of a hand up to gain strength.

  • Hockeytalkguy

    In the big picture if you don’t have health & internal happiness you really have nothing. Hearing stories like this sure make our everyday complaints minuscule.

  • Simba99

    What happened here is you give kids endless amount of money that haven’t learned a damn thing in life so. Not teaching them copeing mechanisms with money fame and fortune it’s like giving money to the homeless.

    • Deke Rivers

      Sorry but blaming money and upbringing is disrespectful and ignorant too the issues of mental illness. Coping mechanisms and a suck it up attitude is what exacerbates the issue, it doesn’t help. The fact he was wealthy is just a footnote, no more relevant than the colour of his hair. This is a man that we knew who is suffering from an illness. Like the article says, what can we do next to help, not blame

  • Spaceman Spiff

    Nice piece, Robin. I like the way you provided careful context for Murphy’s predicament and that there aren’t two stories of homelessness that are the same. You’re quite correct – it’s not really for us to ask why or how he’s gotten to living in a tent in a field, just how to get him out of it.

    I’m heartened to read that Barrie Stafford is involved. Hopefully, there will be some good follow-up stories to come on this. Once an Oiler, always an Oiler.

  • Homelessness here in the Lower Mainland is a serious problem and it’s been that way for a long time. I believe our tax $ needs to solve this problem. I didn’t always think so, but I do now.

    Good for Robin trying to help.

    • Rob...

      One of the problems is that $ won’t always solve the problem. There are many who are offered resources but refuse them. Mental health problems do not eliminate free will. It leaves organizations little recourse except to keep offering, and providing, whatever services are accepted.

  • Daryl Katz

    i hope someone from the NHL office sees this and helps him ! he most certainly has some kind of pension coming his way after 10+ years in the NHL, doesn’t he? someone needs to help him get connected so he can collect it and not live in a tent !

  • Consultant

    Concussions lead to pain, pain leads to med’s, med’s lead to addiction, addiction leads to a downward spiral. Ex-players needs more support as many will have concussion like issues… A higher percentage of these massive salaries needs to be put aside for retiring players.

  • Oilman99

    I would suggest the NHL PA needs to have a section designated to assist its alumni that may be struggling so this type of situation does not occur. I’m sure Joe is not the only person in this type of life”

  • VK63

    Quoting Robin.

    Has Murphy sought or received help dealing with his post-concussion issues?

    A very good question indeed. I would hope that the NHL and the NHLPA have his very best interests at heart, and fwiw, his participation in the class action should have screw all to do with it.
    As Dr. Bennet Omalu has beautifully articulated in his book on concussions.

    Truth doesn’t have a side.
    Sadly, he also articulates in reference to leagues and their power brokers, their religion is money.

    A very provocative read Robin, thank you.

  • Bond 0097

    It’s a sad story and makes me think that the NHLPA ought to have as part of their focus something to help the small number of players that do not thrive after the game is finished with them. This is a group of the wealthiest people anywhere and they should look after their own. I feel bad for anyone down on their luck, Joe Murphy was on top of the world at one time but now he is just a sad story, let’s hope for a happy ending for him at least

  • Stallions #35

    I don’t always agree with Robin’s take on things but I will give you credit for this write up. I hope you guys can find and help Murphy. Keep doing what you do to make the world a better place.