Al Arbour: 1932-2015

The hockey world lost an all-time great coach last Friday and I wanted to extend my condolences to Al Arbour’s family, friends, the Islanders and their fans.

In many ways, the Devils and Islanders share a kinship. Both play in the shadow of the Rangers and no matter how much the franchises win, they can never seem to escape the orbit of the team playing in Manhattan. The glitz and glamor of the Rangers will always grab the headlines and they will always be the darlings of the area media once playoff time rolls around. Al Arbour and the Islanders of the early-1980’s dynasty years set a sort of template for the Devils and their later Stanley Cup championships. Al Arbour was the Isles’ Jacques Lemaire. He came in and brought a team that was on the cusp of gaining respect and winning championships and helped them get over the hump. The parallels between the teams are many and, although neither team’s fans would readily admit it, there is some mutual respect there. We can understand some of the other’s pain when it comes to the Rangers.

Although he spent the majority of his post-playing career as an Islander (he spent time as a player with Detroit, Chicago, Toronto and St. Louis – winning a Stanley Cup each with the Wings [1954] and the Hawks [1961] and two more with the Leafs [1962 and 1964]), he is a true icon across the NHL.

His coaching credentials are impeccable: 19 years behind the New York bench, 1,500 games coached, 119 playoff games coached (NHL record for most with one club), 15 playoff appearances, second in all-time wins and games coached, behind only Scotty Bowman, 1979 Jack Adams Award winner, 1996 Hockey Hall of Fame inductee and four consecutive Stanley Cups won from 1980 to 1983 – the first, and only, American-based club to do so. He last coached in 2007, appearing in one game to make his career games number an even 1,500. His last playoff run was 1992-93 when the Islanders upset the defending Stanley Cup champs the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to the Wales Conference Finals where they lost to eventual Cup champion Montreal. He had a banner in the rafters of the Nassau Coliseum that will be transferred to the Barclays Center when the Isles begin play there this Fall.

Even though he never worked for the Devils, the Islanders in essence taught the Devils how to “survive” in a market dominated by the Rangers. They came in as an expansion team and within a few years began to be built into a winner, gaining respect within the league. Al Arbour was a major part of that and will forever be known as a legend throughout the National Hockey League. He will also remain in the hearts of New York Islander fans for all time.

Rest in peace, Al Arbour.