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Maven's Memories: How Torrey and Arbour Saved the '82-'83 Season

Sometimes the most important moves are the ones you don't make

by Stan Fischler StanFischler /

"I have 10 fingers and a lot of toes. There's plenty more room for the rings." -- Al Arbour

But the Islanders coach -- with three Stanley Cup rings -- was worried.

"Too many guys are not producing," Al said as he laid it on the line late in the 1982-83 homestretch. "We've had problems all season."

Reversing the trend was the challenge facing Bill Torrey and his sidekick, Radar, but if the general staff shared common traits that eventually ignited a comeback it was patience and fortitude.

Neither Bowtie Bill nor Radar panicked. In the long run this would be most fortuitous for everyone connected with the hockey club.

Upset? Sure they were. The high command desperately wanted the three-time defending Champs to become the first American National Hockey League team to conquer four Stanley Cups in succession. However, key media types had their doubts. 

One of them was Associated Press reporter Barry Wilner, author of The New York Islanders -- Countdown To A Dynasty. Wilner put it as candidly as any journalist on the Isles beat:

"The fire that burned inside individuals such as Trottier, Potvin, Bourne, Nystrom and the Sutters has waned -- almost being extinguished," said Wilner. "When that fire fails to burn, their play fizzles."

Video: 1982-83 Islanders win fourth straight Stanley Cup

Torrey read the stories and listened to his aides. The annual Trade Deadline was upon him. Would he pull a blockbuster deal as he did in 1980, acquiring Butch Goring from Los Angeles for Billy Harris and Dave Lewis?

Wilner: "Word was that Bill was going to trade one, two or maybe all of them -- Gillies, McEwen, Nystrom, Merrick, Bourne, Persson. He was going to break up that old gang on the Island. That is, if you believed the rumors."

Well, at least the rumors made headlines, and plenty of them. And, yes, Torrey responded to vox populi but not as many in the "Make a trade" press corps thought he would.

Bill did something by doing nothing. Call it addition by non-subtraction if you will. Point is, Bow Tie ignored the clamor outside and turned inside, listening to his inner brain.

"I never thought about dealing those guys," he asserted. "Those are young players who grew up together. All of them being together all this time has been important."

To a man, the players responded positively as the Trade Deadline came and went without Torrey disturbing the Champs' roster. 

Sure enough, the Isles began winning and the turning point happened to develop off the ice. It was a two-and-a-half hour meeting called by Arbour in which the primary theme was Radar's faith in his players. 

"But I also told them that they had to have faith in themselves," he insisted. "I would have been worried if I thought the attitude was spoiled; that we didn't want it anymore. But I never doubted the attitude. I knew every one of the guys still had the drive to win."

Video: Islanders: Al Arbour: The Father of the Dynasty

And win they did with a burst in the stretch that lifted them to second place -- behind Philadelphia -- in the Patrick Division. The final numbers (42-26-12) were encouraging. So was the fact that the timing -- getting hot just before the playoffs -- was right.

"We're actually a better team now, going into the playoffs than in the last couple of years," said Ken Morrow, who had gone three-for-three on Cup teams. "The pressure is on the other teams. We'll go into the playoffs not worrying about it."

Sounded good.

But outside the dressing room a question was being asked: Are the Islanders good enough to make it four Cups in a row?

Time -- and the 1983 playoffs -- would tell.


1. FAMILY: The core of the team -- from goaltending to defense to forwards -- remained the same as it had been in 1980 when the first Cup was won.

2. PSYCHOLOGY: Arbour read his players like a shrink would. "I knew I couldn't push these guys for six months with all the experience they've had."

3. FAITH: Torrey may have been tempted -- perhaps even pushed -- by the media to make a deal. But he resisted unloading his lads because he felt that ultimately they would rally and win.

4. TALENT: The high command knew that it had a superior lineup sprinkled with Hall of Famers still in the prime of their respective careers. In the clutch, they responded.

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