Al Arbour is best remembered as the mastermind coach behind the mighty New York Islander's dynasty. Many say the Islanders were the best team in NHL history. Arbour is among them.
"Our club won (an NHL record) 19 straight playoff series," said Arbour "Do you know any other team that has done that?"
But while Arbour is recognized as one of the greatest (and winningest) coaches of all time, he is also remembered as the journeyman defenseman who played for 19 years pro hockey while wearing glasses.
Arbour was a classic defensive blueliner. He had neither the speed or hands to do much with the puck but became a stalwart without it. His patented move was his incredible shot blocking. He'd often sacrifice his body to stop the puck from ever reaching the net.
Arbour played parts of 4 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings before finally making the squad on a full time basis in 1957. However the next season he was left unprotected by the Wings and the Chicago Black Hawks picked up 6'0" 180lb Sudbury, Ontario native. Arbour would play 3 years in the Windy City but was again left unprotected in 1961 and was picked up by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Leafs were a very strong team during the 1960s. Arbour had trouble sticking with the Leafs and spent most of his time in the AHL as opposed to the NHL when the Leafs were winning Stanley Cups. But Arbour's defensive excellence didn't go unnoticed as he was named a 4 time all star and the 1965 Defenseman of the Year in the AHL while playing with the Rochester Americans.
Arbour got his chance to return to the NHL when expansion hit in 1967. The St. Louis Blues eagerly snatched up the veteran blueliner. It is in St. Louis that Arbour is perhaps best remembered as a player. He was the first captain in St. Louis history, and under his leadership he guided the St. Louis squad to the Stanley Cup finals in each of their first 3 seasons of existence (never winning the Cup, however).
Arbour's coach in St. Louis was Scotty Bowman. It's no wonder that Arbour became such a great coach when he played for perhaps the greatest coach of all time in Scotty Bowman. In fact Bowman is the only coach to have won more games behind the bench than Al Arbour.
Arbour was an early advocate of disciplined positional play and team oriented defensive systems. His teams always excelled in specialty team situations, especially during the dynastic years on Long Island.
He was also the type of coach who didn't rant and rave. He was always honest and logical with his players and never tried to con them. Those were qualities that his players appreciated.
"Al earned tremendous respect from the players. What he said was gold. Very few coaches can make that statement.", said Denis Potvin, the captain of the dynasty Islanders.
"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, by many considered to be the heart and soul of the Islanders.
All in all Arbour appeared in 2,227 games as a player and coach, that is an NHL record. In total, Arbour played in 626 NHL games. He scored just 12 goals and 70 points in that time. Arbour, who is in the Hall of Fame as a coach, has 781 career coaching wins in 1606 games. He added another 123 wins in 209 playoff games.
On September 16,1996 Arbour was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in the builders category, recieving hockey's highest honor. He also won the Jack Adams award in 1979 (NHL's coach of the year) and the Lester Patrick Award in 1992. (outstanding service to hockey in the United States).
In 2001 Al Arbour was an excellent addition to the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee.