A place among the greatest head coaches in NHL history will always be held by Alger Joseph "Radar" Arbour. His career totals of 1,606 games behind the bench and 781 victories trail only the legendary Scotty Bowman in the record ledger. Arbour's guidance contributed significantly to the New York Islanders' rapid ascent to competitive status in the 1970s and the club's subsequent run of four consecutive Stanley Cup wins from 1980 to 1983, as well as a record 19 consecutive playoff series wins from 1980 to 1984.
The Sudbury, Ontario, native played defense on the junior Windsor Spitfires of the OHA. After distinguishing himself as an amateur, he was signed by the Detroit Red Wings and joined the pro ranks with the Edmonton Flyers of the Western Hockey League in 1952-53. He split the next four years between Alberta, the Motor City and Sherbrooke in the Quebec senior loop.
In 1957-58, Arbour played his first full NHL season in the red and white of the Wings. Following that season, he was claimed by the Chicago Black Hawks, where he toiled for three years including 1961, the year of the franchise's Stanley Cup triumph. Arbour next played five seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs and earned his second Stanley Cup ring in 1962. After spending the 1966-67 season in the AHL, he returned to contribute experience and stability to the defense corps of the expansion St. Louis Blues in 1967-68. Early in 1970-71, he retired as a player after 600 games over 14 years. Arbour was also one of the few players in league history to wear glasses while playing.
Upon retiring, Arbour was immediately hired to stand in as coach of the Blues for the remainder of the 1970-71 schedule. During the last 50 games of the season, the team responded well by posting a 21-15-14 mark before falling to the Minnesota North Stars in the quarterfinals of the playoffs.
Arbour guided St. Louis on an interim basis over the next two seasons but jumped at the greatest challenge of his young coaching career in 1973. Prior to the 1973-74 schedule, the New York Islanders were coming off a difficult expansion season in which they'd accumulated a mere 30 points. The organization felt it had some promise and required a young, ambitious figure to steer the team in the right direction. Arbour's positive impact on the team was immediate. The squad improved its total to 56 points and began building around talented defenseman Denis Potvin.
The 1974-75 season saw the arrival of Arbour's Islanders as a competitive NHL franchise. They won 33 regular-season matches before enjoying a memorable playoff run. They defeated Pittsburgh in a seven-game quarter-finals after losing the first three games. In the semi-finals, they fell one game short of doing the same thing to the defending champion Philadelphia Flyers.
During each of the next four seasons, the Islanders finished with more than 100 points. This didn't translate into a Stanley Cup triumph, but the team did gain valuable experience. Following the 1978-79 campaign, Arbour was presented the Jack Adams Award as the NHL's top coach. In 1979-80, the Islanders attained their ultimate goal by defeating the Philadelphia Flyers in six games to win the Stanley Cup in their eighth season. They repeated this accomplishment in each of the next three years to become only the second NHL club to win four straight titles (Montreal did it twice). Their drive for five consecutive championships fell short when they lost to the Edmonton Oilers in the 1984 finals.
Afterward, Arbour marshaled the Islanders to solid if unspectacular results before stepping down following the 1985-86 season. He served as the organization's vice-president of player development before returning as the team's bench boss partway through the 1988-89 season. Arbour's contribution to the development of hockey in the United States was acknowledged in 1992 when his name was engraved on the Lester Patrick Trophy.
The pinnacle of his second installment behind the New York bench occurred in 1992-93 when the Islanders upset the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins to reach the semi-finals. Arbour retired in 1994 as the second-winningest coach of all time, with 781 regular-season victories and 123 post-season triumphs to his credit. One of the major foundations in the history of the New York Islanders, Arbour was an obvious choice to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame Builders category in 1996. "Its behind the New York bench occurred in 1992-93 when the Islanders upset the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins to reach the semi-finals. Arbour retired in 1994 as the second-winningest coach of all time, with 781 regular-season victories and 123 post-season triumphs to his credit. One of the major foundations in the history of the New York Islanders, Arbour was an obvious choice to enter the Hockey Hall of Fame Builder category in 1996.