“Al will always be remembered as one of, if not, the greatest coaches ever to stand behind a bench in the history of the National Hockey League,” Islanders president and general manager Garth Snow said. “The New York Islanders franchise has four Stanley Cups to its name thanks in large part to Al’s incredible efforts. From his innovative coaching methods to his humble way of life away from the game, Al is one of the reasons the New York Islanders are a historic franchise. On behalf of the entire organization we send our deepest condolences to the entire Arbour family.”
Those four Stanley Cups came consecutively in the early 1980s in an era when Arbour also led the Islanders to 19 consecutive series victories from 1980 to 1984. He also won the Cup four times as a player.
Arbour’s playing career began with the Detroit Red Wings, where he won a Stanley Cup in 1954. The defencemen went on to suit up for the Chicago Black Hawks, Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues. He won a Cup with the 1960-1961 Black Hawks and won two more with the Maple Leafs in 1961-1962 and 1963-1964. He is one of only 10 players in NHL history to have won the Stanley Cup with three different teams.
Arbour began coaching in 1970 with the Blues, but things really took off when he was hired to coach the Islanders in 1973. Prior to his hiring, the Islanders have only managed to scrape together a dozen wins in their inaugural season.
Arbour’s Islanders finished last in his first season behind the bench, but they gave up 100 fewer goals from the previous season. By 1974-1975, they were third in their division and made the playoffs for the first time. And by 1978-1979, the Islanders had the best record in the NHL. They still struggled in the post-season, however.
On May 24, 1980, the Islanders captured their first Stanley Cup by defeating the Philadelphia Flyers. Arbour’s Islanders won three more Cups in a row, setting records along the way until they ran into the Edmonton Oilers in the 1984 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Following the 1985-1986 season, Arbour retired from coaching.
In 1988, however, general manager Bill Torrey hired him back and Arbour found himself behind the bench of the Islanders once more. By this point and time, New York was a different team. Arbour made it deep in the playoffs in 1992-1993, but it was not to be. The Islanders lost to the Montreal Canadiens in the semifinals after knocking off the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins.
Arbour retired after the 1993-1994 season. He was brought back to coach his 1,500th game for Long Island in November of 2007 in an appearance that made the then-75-year-old Arbour the oldest man to ever coach an NHL game. He received his 740th career win in the effort, too, as the Islanders defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“Al Arbour was a special person, he was a special man,” said Torrey. “He was a great family man, a great hockey man. Outside of his family, nothing came or was more important to him than his players and his team. Hockey was a major part of his life.”
Arbour won the Jack Adams Award in 1979 and was elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996. He is currently second in coaching wins behind Scotty Bowman and leaves behind a lasting legacy that touched many lives in Long Island and beyond.