Al Arbour dies at 82; coach turned New York Islanders into NHL dynasty

Al Arbour dies at 82; coach turned New York Islanders into NHL dynasty
New York Islanders coach Al Arbour exults in the locker room on May 17, 1983, after the team won its fourth consecutive Stanley Cup. The NHL's second-winningest coach has died at the age of 82. (Associated Press)

Al Arbour, the bespectacled gentleman of a coach who molded a young and talented New York Islanders franchise into an NHL dynasty that won four straight Stanley Cups in the early 1980s, has died. He was 82.

Arbour had been in declining health, battling Parkinson's disease and dementia, and living in a long-term care facility in Florida, his former team said in a statement Friday.


Beginning in 1973-74, Arbour led the Islanders to 15 playoff appearances and won 119 playoff games — an NHL record with one team — over 19 seasons. His 740 career regular-season wins with the Islanders are the most with one NHL team.

Arbour was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996. He had success as a player, but his real talent was in coaching.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Arbour was brilliant as a tactician and coach.

"Al Arbour directed the Islanders' rapid transformation from expansion team to NHL powerhouse," Bettman said in a statement released by the league.

As a player, the defenseman won titles with the Detroit Red Wings in 1954, the Chicago Blackhawks in 1961 and the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1962 and 1964 during an NHL career that spanned three decades and 14 seasons. His last four seasons were with the expansion St. Louis Blues, who took him to three more Cup finals and gave him his start behind the bench.

His coaching statistics were even better. Besides the four consecutive Cups, he won 782 games, making him the NHL's second-winningest coach behind his mentor, Scotty Bowman (1,244). The Islanders also set an NHL record by winning 19 consecutive playoff series.

No team in any major sport has won four straight titles since Arbour's Islanders did it.

Bowman referred to the Islanders' string of series wins as a record that will be tough to break, and he called it a testament to Arbour that he was able to enjoy so much success with one franchise.

"Most of us coaches, we have to move around to get our message across," Bowman said Friday. "But he was able to do it over a 20-year span. It's an awesome feat."

Arbour's last win came in 2007, when the Islanders brought the then-75-year-old out of retirement to coach his 1,500th game with the franchise, a 3-2 win over the Penguins.

The NHL named Arbour its coach of year in 1979. He also was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy in 1992 for contributions to ice hockey in the United States.

Born Nov. 1, 1932, in Sudbury, Canada, Arbour was one of the last NHL players to play wearing glasses. He never hesitated to go down and block shots, and he had a couple of hundred stitches to prove it. As a coach, he respected his players but found ways to push them. Failing to listen would result in fewer shifts and games missed.

As a player, Arbour finished with 12 goals and 58 assists in 626 career games.

In retirement, Arbour was an avid NHL follower and sometimes critic.


During the 2012 playoffs, he complained about the NHL's inconsistencies in disciplining players and how it led to stars such as Sidney Crosby and Claude Giroux having to fight to defend themselves.

Arbour also complained about how quickly teams lose patience with coaches and general managers, wondering if he would have coached the Islanders for as long as he did in today's game.

"The minute you lose a few games, you get the hammer, you get canned," Arbour told the Associated Press in 2010. "It's craziness. The guy they get is not any better."

He is survived by his wife, Claire, and children Joann, Jay, Julie and Janice.