Al Arbour, the coach of the 1980s New York Islanders dynasty that won four consecutive Stanley Cups, has died at the age of 82.
The Sudbury, Ont., native coached the Islanders to the Cup in 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1983 and won an NHL-record 19 straight playoff series through 1984. No team has won even three straight titles since.
"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 general manager Garth Snow said in a statement released by the team. "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."
Arbour's 782 regular-season victories are the second most in league history behind only Scotty Bowman. Former Islanders forward Ray Ferraro remembered Arbour as much as a person as a winning coach and has fond memories of New York's run past Bowman's Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1993 playoffs.
"He was very firm and very demanding, but he was so incredibly fair that I don't know how you could want to play for anyone else," Ferraro said by phone Friday. "He never panicked, was always sure but always sure without being a dictator. … Al never tried to be the man. He just was."
Arbour, who also coached the Blues in parts of three seasons before going to the Islanders, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 1996. Arbour coached a total of 1,500 games for New York, hitting the milestone when he came out of retirement for one final game in 2007 at the request of Ted Nolan.
Ferraro called the 19 straight playoff series victories one of the most unbreakable records in sports.
"There's not a chance that can happen again," Ferraro said. "People need to remember they were seven years from being an expansion team. Seven years to 19 straight series wins."
As a defenceman, Arbour was part of three Cup champions with the Chicago Blackhawks and Toronto Maple Leafs and was the first captain of the St. Louis Blues. He played 626 games for the Blues, Maple Leafs, Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings.
When news of Arbour's death came out, condolences poured out on Twitter from around the hockey world.
"RIP Radar Al Arbour," former New York Rangers GM Neil Smith said. "One of the very best hockey people who ever lived. Great player, competitor and coach. But especially a great person."
Islanders forward Michael Grabner tweeted: "Sad day for isles family with the passing of al arbour..he'll always be remembered for all he did and the person he was."
Arbour had been battling Parkinson's Disease and dementia.
With Arbour in hospice care for the past several months in Sarasota, Fla., Don Cherry offered his thoughts on his former minor-league teammate.
"He has played and coached more playoff games than anybody in the history of the game, more than Scotty, more than Joel [Quenneville]," Cherry said during his "Coach's Corner" segment. "This guy was an unbelievable coach."
Arbour took part in 86 playoff games as a player and 209 more as a coach. He led the Islanders to 15 playoff appearances during his tenure.
Ferraro, who visited Arbour this past spring with former teammates Pat Flatley, Glenn Healy and others, said his favourite story about the legendary coach came in 1993. Ferraro had just returned from missing time with an ankle injury, and when his play wasn't up to par, Arbour called him into his office with three games left before the playoffs.
"He said, 'Seagull, you got three games to get going, and if you can't get going you're going to be sitting with Claire, and she's been in the same seats for 22 years,' " Ferraro recalled. "I just stood there and he said, 'That's all.' He gave me the opportunity to play well and said if you can't play well, then I'm going to have to use somebody else.
"I got 13 goals in 18 games in the playoffs that year. He gave me the chance. And I always felt that he was so fair in that regard."