Today we recall a move that was absolutely essential to the puzzle ever coming together.
On June 10, 1973, Bill Torrey hired a coach who originally refused the offer, fearing New York was too much urban life for him. But after visiting Long Island and getting a proper tour, Al Arbour realized the picturesque outdoors away from the big city (and away from the Coliseum visiting teams see) were enough comfort to make him feel right at home.
As I recalled last year, in a situation that has become all too familiar to the St. Louis Blues franchise (Scotty Bowman, Joel Quenneville), the Blues let their former captain and coach Arbour get away, so he went on to win Stanley Cups elsewhere. (Aside: Indirectly and via paternal intervention, this is how I became an Islanders fan.)
After a dismal 12-60-6 expansion season that Torrey knew would go awfully on the ice, Torrey found a coach with whom he could form a lasting partnership. Though the islanders were still bad in Arbour's first year (19-41-18), they were much better -- and opponents noticed the still talent-challenged Isles now had on-ice structure in place.
"The first day he came, he brought a winning attitude. Al showed us he had faith in the players. The quality rubbed off on all of us," said Bob Nystrom.
Roger Nielsen is rightly credited for advancing the use of video scouting in coaching, but Arbour was also doing it in the '70s, as noted in Stan Fischler's 1976 book, "The Triumphant Islanders: Hockey's New Dynasty." (Yes, 1976 with that prescient title)
By Arbour's second year, they had a winning record and were a Stanley Cup semifinalist. The rest is dynastic history, with Arbour only yielding the helm when he got tired of it, first in 1986 and then again in 1994. He coached more games with one franchise than any other coach.
USA Today got the thoughts of the Isles' two major management forces on the occasion of Arbour's ceremonial but official return to the bench for game #1500 in 2007:
He was a quick study," [former Islanders assistant GM and head scout Jimmy} Devellano recalled. "He figured out what was effective and what wasn't and used that. He was not a head games guy. Al was more straightforward. He was firm. He was strong. He was fairly demanding, and what I mean he was fair in his demands."
Former Islanders GM Bill Torrey hired Arbour. What he remembers most about him is that he always did what he said he would do, and he always had an amazing sense of his team. Even when the team was in a winning streak, he could predict when it was going to end.
"There are always times when a coach has to make players do something they really don't like," Torrey said. "But certainly his players respected him and I would say there were very few that didn't really like him or have strong feelings for him."
It's been said many times before, but Arbour was a father figure to many of the Islanders players who won him enough Stanley Cup rings for his second hand. (Don't forget, he was part of four other Cup winners as a player.) It's probably why he was able to coach the Isles for so long and survive the disappointments of the late '70s.
That mix of respect (and fear?) and care is a tough balance for a coach in any age. Arbour's record suggests he mastered it better than any other.