Bill Torrey, the architect of the New York Islanders dynasty in the early 1980s and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, died Wednesday. He was 83.
Torrey was serving as a special adviser to the general manager and an alternate governor of the Florida Panthers, the team he worked for since leaving the Islanders in 1992.
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"Bill was the first employee, general manager and architect of one of the greatest dynasties in NHL history: the New York Islanders, winners of four straight Stanley Cups," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "He was the first president of the Florida Panthers and built the organization into one of the most successful expansion franchises in League history; the Panthers reached the Stanley Cup Final in just their third season of existence. And his imprint is on virtually every team in our league, as he personally mentored and inspired generations of NHL general managers who have followed him and established the team-building blueprint based upon scouting, drafting and player development that today remains the model for lasting success.
"It is no wonder that he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame and was the recipient of a Lester Patrick Award."
Torrey, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995, leaves a legacy few hockey executives can match. After being hired by the Islanders as their first employee on Feb. 15, 1972, Torrey began surrounding himself with people on and off the ice who built a franchise that would win 19 consecutive Stanley Cup Playoff series, a record for any major North American sport.
"Bill set the model for how to build a franchise with the leadership he instilled through his coaching staff, his innovative drafting methods and the trades he executed," Islanders president and general manager Garth Snow said. "He was a pioneer who became a mentor and even better friend to so many in the industry. The teams he constructed set records that may never be broken, including the four straight Stanley Cup championships and 19 straight playoff series wins. On behalf of the entire organization, we send our deepest condolences to Bill's family."
Video: Bill Torrey - one of the most respected men in hockey
With the help of Hockey Hall of Fame member Jim Devellano, Torrey constructed one of the greatest dynasties in the history of professional sports. The first piece arrived at the NHL Expansion Draft in 1972, when the Islanders selected goaltender Billy Smith. With the No. 1 pick in the 1973 NHL Draft, the Islanders chose defenseman and future captain Denis Potvin.
When Potvin and his teammates reported to camp before the 1973-74 season, they were greeted by arguably the most important hire of Torrey's time with the Islanders, coach Al Arbour.
"He had an ability to read people, and he could also recognize character," New York forward Bob Nystrom said. "I think that that's certainly one of the reasons that Al was brought in. Al was just a real character guy as a player and certainly as a coach, he was the best motivator that I've ever met. But Bill had a good sense for people, and I think Al was the same way. That's why they worked so well together, because if there wasn't someone that fit into our goal or what we were trying to accomplish, Al would mention it, Bill would get rid of him. They had a great relationship that way."
By 1975 the Islanders were an NHL force. They upset the New York Rangers in the NHL Preliminary Round on an overtime goal by J.P. Parise at Madison Square Garden, then trailed 3-0 in the NHL Quarterfinals before defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games, becoming the second team in NHL history to win a series after losing the first three games, New York nearly did it again in the NHL Semifinals, trailing 3-0 before losing to the defending Stanley Cup champion Philadelphia Flyers in Game 7.
Torrey added two crucial pieces at the 1977 NHL Draft when he selected Mike Bossy (No. 15) and John Tonelli (No. 33) in the first two rounds. Bossy went on to be one of the most prolific goal-scorers in NHL history, with 573 in 10 seasons. Tonelli provided plenty of grit and a knack for scoring timely goals.
"He'll probably go down in the annals as one of the real, real smart guys in the hockey business," Islanders forward Clark Gilles said. "From the moves he made on our team, bringing in this guy, bringing in that guy. ... It was part of making our team successful."
New York won its first of four straight Stanley Cup titles May 24, 1980, when Nystrom scored in overtime in Game 6 against Philadelphia. The Islanders won again in 1981, 1982 and 1983, and advanced to the 1984 Cup Final, losing to the Edmonton Oilers. Their 19 consecutive series victories are an NHL record.
One of the key moves by Torrey was acquiring center Butch Goring from the Los Angeles Kings in a trade March 10, 1980. It's regarded by many as the gold standard of NHL Trade Deadline moves.
"It's a tough day because I've had a lot of respect for Bill Torrey, not only as a manager and a hockey person," said Goring, a television analyst on Islanders games. "That trade changed my whole world. He's a special friend and will be missed."
Video: Butch Goring on the passing of Bill Torrey
Torrey was named president of the expansion Panthers on April 19, 1993. Three years later, the Panthers became the fastest post 1967-expansion NHL team to reach the Stanley Cup Final; they were swept by the Colorado Avalanche.
He stepped down as president after nine seasons.
"We're shocked and heartbroken by the news of William 'Bill' Torrey's passing and extend our deepest condolences to his four sons and grandchildren," Panthers owner Vincent Viola said. "An original Panther and the forefather of our franchise, Mr. Torrey had a champion's spirit and lived for the game. His indomitable energy and his commitment to hockey and to South Florida was inspiring. It was an honor to work with him and know him."
San Jose Sharks coach Peter DeBoer, whose first NHL job was as coach of the Panthers from 2008-11, said Torrey was a calming influence during a period of turmoil.
"Class, class act is the words that come to mind," DeBoer said. "At that time we had gone through three GMs, three ownership groups in my first three years. He was the one stabilizing force, the one guy who always had a smile and a positive word. A small conversation at the right time to keep you focused. An exceptional person."
Torrey, who won the Lester Patrick Award for service to hockey in the United States in 1983, was born in Montreal on June 23, 1934 and attended St. Lawrence University, where he studied business and psychology. His front-office career began with the Pittsburgh Hornets of the American Hockey League in the 1960s.
"When he needed to be, he was just all business," Gilles said. "Bill didn't address the team very much, but when he did he was kind of laying down the law, like, 'You can continue to play like this, but if you do, you won't be playing here.' Little messages that we all got loud and clear."
Video: NHL Tonight reacts to the passing of William Torrey
Torrey was named executive vice president of the Oakland Seals in 1968 and led them to a big turnaround. The Seals went from the West Division basement in 1967-68 to a second-place finish in 1968-69. Oakland made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons before Torrey left during the 1970-71 season.
"He did something that he loved more than anything else, and that was hockey," Nystrom said. "He did one hell of a job at it too, no question about it."