Bill Torrey, 83; brought Stanley Cup to Long Island

As general manager, Mr. Torrey built New York Islanders teams that won the Stanley Cup four consecutive seasons.
ED BETZ/Associated Press/file 2001
As general manager, Mr. Torrey built New York Islanders teams that won the Stanley Cup four consecutive seasons.

NEW YORK — Bill Torrey, who became the first employee of the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League when he was named general manager in February 1972 and went on to build four consecutive Stanley Cup champions in the early 1980s, died Thursday at his home in West Palm Beach, Fla. He was 83.

His death was confirmed by his son Richard, who said he did not know the cause.

Mr. Torrey, who played hockey in college but never professionally and never coached, had a gift for finding young players with the potential for brilliance.


He was certain the Islanders would finish at the bottom of the league in their first season, giving them the No. 1 pick in the amateur draft afterward. He scouted a 19-year-old defenseman, Denis Potvin, at least 20 times, believing that Potvin would shore up the Islanders’ defense for years to come.

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After the Islanders indeed finished last, winning only 12 of 78 games, he obtained Potvin with that draft pick in May 1973. He also hired longtime NHL defenseman Al Arbour as the head coach. (Phil Goyette, the team’s original coach, had been fired halfway through the season and replaced with Earl Ingarfield.)

Potvin won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and was later inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame. But he was only the first building block.

Mr. Torrey obtained a host of young players who formed the Islanders’ nucleus, most notably Potvin and Ken Morrow on defense, Billy Smith in goal, and Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies, Bob Nystrom, John Tonelli, Butch Goring, and Bob Bourne at forward.

Playing at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, some 25 miles from the glitter of Madison Square Garden and the long-established Rangers, the Islanders were Long Island’s team and forged an identity in the suburbs.


“We’ve had young players who grew up together,” Mr. Torrey remarked in May 1983, when the Islanders captured their fourth straight Stanley Cup championship. “They’ve also settled on Long Island together.”

Nystrom, whose overtime goal against the Philadelphia Flyers gave the Islanders their first Stanley Cup championship, once recalled, “Our goal was to win, not to convert Ranger fans,” adding, “We all came from small towns in Canada, and it was a wonderful feeling to be an Islander.”

Mr. Torrey’s Islanders won the NHL championship every year from 1980 to 1983 under Arbour’s coaching, defeating the Flyers, the Minnesota North Stars, the Vancouver Canucks, and the Edmonton Oilers in the league finals.

They were only the second NHL franchise to win four consecutive championships. The Montreal Canadiens, one of the league’s original franchises, won five straight, from 1956 to 1960, and four straight in the seasons before the Islanders’ streak.

The Islanders won a league-record 19 consecutive playoff series from 1980 to 1984, when they were beaten in the Stanley Cup Final by the Oilers.


Mr. Torrey — or Bow Tie Bill, as he was known for his favorite neckwear — represented a modern-era approach to hockey management in the eyes of John Ziegler, the NHL president in the Islanders’ heyday.

“Bill is a new breed of general manager,” Ziegler remarked when the Islanders headed toward their second consecutive championship. “He’s got a business background. He understands the financial aspects of hockey. At one time, most general managers were ex-jocks.”

Mr. Torrey received the Lester Patrick Trophy for his contribution to hockey in the United States in 1983. He was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995.

William Arthur Torrey was born on June 23, 1934, in Montreal, to the former Josephine Leonard, a homemaker, and Arthur Torrey, who ran a brokerage firm.

He played hockey at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., for three seasons while studying business and majoring in psychology.

He broke into pro sports by handling publicity and business affairs for the Pittsburgh Hornets of the American Hockey League.

He became executive vice president of the Oakland Seals in 1968, a year after they joined the NHL when the league expanded from to 12 teams from six. He resigned in December 1970 after clashing with the team’s new owner, the flamboyant and meddling Charles O. Finley, who would be best known for his tumultuous ownership of the Oakland A’s baseball team.

When Long Island was awarded an expansion franchise in 1972, the new team’s owner, Roy Boe, hired Mr. Torrey to find players.

Mr. Torrey stayed on when John Pickett became the team’s owner in 1978 having made impressive strides with the Islanders, who reached the playoffs for the first time in 1975, beginning a stretch of 14 consecutive winning seasons. He was later the Islanders’ president and chairman, while remaining general manager.

The Islanders’ string of Stanley Cup championships ended when they lost in a five-game final series to the Oilers in 1984. There were no more championships for Long Island after that, and Mr. Torrey was ousted from his posts by a new management group in 1992.

He was hired by the expansion Florida Panthers as president in April 1993. The Panthers set expansion-team records with 33 victories and 83 points in 1993-94 and went to the Cup final — losing to the Colorado Avalanche in four games — in their third season.

Mr. Torrey retired in 2001. His marriages to Sallie Robinson and Carolyn O’Kelly ended in divorce. In addition to his son Richard, and two other sons from his first marriage, William and Peter, he leaves a son from his second marriage, Arthur; a brother, David; a sister, Jane Stauffer; and 10 grandchildren.