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Al Arbour passes away at 82

by Chris Lund / Toronto Maple Leafs

It is with great sadness on Friday the Toronto Maple Leafs learned of the passing of Al Arbour. He was 82 years old.

A defenceman who played a traditional stay-at-home game, Arbour's path to the NHL began in his hometown of Sudbury, Ont., where he was born in 1932. He was signed by the Detroit Red Wings prior to the 1949-50 season and joined the Windsor Spitfires. He played four seasons in Windsor, with his stay coming to an end after the 1952-53 season. Following his time in Windsor he suited up for the Western League's Edmonton Flyers where he captured a championship in 1953.

During the 1953-54 season, he made his NHL debut for the Red Wings and played 36 games for the team. Despite not playing any playoff games for Detroit, Arbour's name was engraved on the Stanley Cup for the first time after the Red Wings defeated the Montreal Canadiens in seven games.

Due to the depth of the blueline group in Detroit, which included many other past and future Maple Leafs — Bob Goldham, Red Kelly, Larry Hillman and Marcel Pronovost among them — Arbour's arrival as a full-time NHLer was put on hold. He returned to Edmonton and the Flyers, while also having stints with the Sherbrooke Saints and Quebec Aces of the Quebec League. He was a WHL Second Team All-Star in 1954-55 with the Flyers.

His NHL return came during the 1956 playoffs when he played four games for the Red Wings. From there he settled in as a pro, playing 113 games over the next two seasons in Detroit.

Arbour was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 1958 Intra-League draft. He played 180 games from 1958-61, capturing the Stanley Cup with Chicago in 1961. Following his championship season in 1961, he was tabbed by the Maple Leafs to join their blueline, once again being selected in the Intra-League draft.

While a member of the Maple Leafs organization, Arbour split his time between the Leafs and their then-AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans. He played 66 games over four seasons with the Leafs and won the Stanley Cup as a member of the team in 1962 and 1964. Despite falling short of the necessary requirements to be considered as a member of the 1963 championship Leafs team, he was named a First Team AHL All-Star for his efforts in Rochester, his first of three All-Star nods in the AHL. Over the course of his time in the organization, Arbour won the Calder Cup with Rochester in 1965 and 1966, while also being named the AHL's Top Defenceman in 1965.

Following his time with the Leafs, Arbour was claimed in the NHL's Expansion Draft by the St. Louis Blues in 1967 and was named the first captain of the franchise — a designation he held until 1970. He played four seasons with the Blues and played in the Stanley Cup final three times.

He remains the last player to wear glasses during an NHL game and took that image into his post-playing days.

Arbour began his coaching career with the Blues as his time as a player wound down. He coached parts of three seasons in St. Louis and also held the role of assistant GM at one point in time. He departed the organization during the 1972-73 season and briefly joined the Atlanta Flames as a scout.

He was soon approached by New York Islanders general manager Bill Torrey about the new franchise's coaching position. Arbour took over as head coach of the Isles during the 1973-74 season and made immediate progress from their expansion season. The team had a 25 point improvement over the previous season and gave up 247 goals — 100 less than one year prior.

From his first season on Long Island, the Islanders began their ascent to dynasty status, winning at least one playoff series every year for the next five seasons. His Islanders won their first of four consecutive Stanley Cups in 1980, beginning a run of 19 consecutive playoff series victories — a record which stands today — that spanned the first round of the 1980 playoffs until the 1984 Stanley Cup final when they were denied a fifth consecutive Stanley Cup by the Edmonton Oilers.

Under Arbour, the Islanders had 12 consecutive winning seasons from 1975 to 1986, won six Patrick Division titles, went to five consecutive Stanley Cup finals and won four Stanley Cups.

He came out of retirement and returned behind the bench for the Isles during the 1988-89 season and coached until 1993-94, bringing the team three more playoff appearances and a berth in the 1993 Prince of Wales Conference Finals. He retired a second time having coached 1,499 regular season games for the Islanders over his two stints — 739 of which were wins.

Arbour made one final return behind the Islanders bench at the request of then-Islanders head coach Ted Nolan who wanted to see Arbour reach 1,500 games behind the bench of the Isles. On November 3, 2007, Arbour coached the Islanders for one final game — a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins — to give him 740 wins in 1,500 regular season games coached with the Islanders.

His banner which hung from the rafters at Nassau Coliseum and will move with the Islanders to Brooklyn's Barclays Center displays Arbour's famous '1500'.

In retirement, Arbour lived in Florida, while also having a cottage in his hometown of Sudbury. He passed away in Florida on August 28. He is survived by his wife, Claire, and their children Joann, Jay, Julie and Janice.

Al Arbour was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a Builder in 1996. He won two Calder Cups, three Stanley Cups as a player, four Stanley Cups as a head coach and the 1979 Jack Adams award. He is second to only Scotty Bowman in both games coached in the NHL and wins.

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