Al Arbour passed away on Friday. The great Islanders coach who guided them to four consecutive Stanley Cups between 1980 to 1983 was 82. A former NHL defenseman who spent over a decade with Detroit, Chicago, Toronto and St. Louis, he began his coaching career with the Blues in his final season as a player. After winning 42 games between ’70-71 through ’72-73, he took over the Islanders bench in their second season.
Arbour would go on to become the second all-time winningest coach in NHL history. His 782 wins trail only Scotty Bowman (1244). His success came in Long Island where he went 740-537-223 in 1500 games as Islanders coach. That included a return behind the bench for his 1500th game next to Ted Nolan for win number 740 at the age of 75 on November 3, 2007.
From ’74-75 thru ’85-86, the Islanders never missed the playoffs. With architect Bill Torrey building a dynasty around Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, Billy Smith, Ken Morrow, Clark Gillies, Bob Nystrom, Butch Goring, Brent Sutter and Bob Bourne, the Islanders became one of the greatest teams in sports history winning a record 19 consecutive playoff series. It all came under Arbour who also guided them to a epic comeback from 3-0 down to stun the Penguins in 1975. They nearly turned the trick against the eventual Cup champion Flyers rallying from a identical deficit before losing Game 7.
Despite some great teams, the Islanders didn’t have success right away suffering upsets to the Maple Leafs in ’78 and the hated Rangers in ’79. After falling to their crosstown rivals, the Islanders found the missing piece with Torrey adding Goring in a trade that allowed them to jell. They won their first Cup in 1980 on Nystrom’s overtime goal beating the Flyers in six. They won it again over the North Stars and defeated the Canucks the following year. Their last championship came against the young talented Oilers. They taught them a lesson sweeping for a fourth straight Cup. Interestingly, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier admitted that seeing the Islanders in their locker room exhausted is what inspired them to lead Edmonton to greatness. They dethroned the Islanders in 1984.
After Arbour retired following ’85-86 to move upstairs, he returned behind the bench replacing Terry Simpson in ’88-89. With a new cast of characters, Arbour led the Islanders to a Eastern Conference Semifinal seven-game upset of the two-time defending champion Pens in 1993. Their run to the Conference Finals featured Pierre Turgeon, Ray Ferraro, Steve Thomas, Benoit Hogue, Patrick Flatley, Glenn Healy, Darius Kasparaitis, Vladimir Malakhov, Uwe Krupp and overtime hero David Volek. Volek scored the OT winner to stun the Pens in Game 7 allowing the Islanders to advance and face the Canadiens. They lost in five to the eventual Cup champs.
The final playoff series Arbour ever coached came against the Rangers the following year. They were no match for the heavily favorite Rangers who swept them in a one-sided first round. Following the ouster, he retired a second time. He finished his Islanders career with a 114-76 playoff record leading the Islanders to four Cups, five Finals and 15 postseasons. A remarkable career for a former player who also won Cups with the Red Wings (’54), Blackhawks (’61) and Maple Leafs (’62, ’64) He is one of only 10 players to win a Cup with three different teams.
Arbour also was the final NHL player to wear eye glasses during competition. He was also the first ever Blues captain in franchise history. In what will be the Islanders’ first season in Brooklyn at Barclays Center, a new era begins. They’ll dedicate it to the greatest coach in franchise history.