Hall of Fame general manager Bill Torrey, the architect of the Islanders’ four-time Stanley Cup dynasty in the 1980s, has died, the team announced. He was 83.
Torrey was the Isles’ first general manager beginning with their inception in 1972, quickly constructing what would be the most recent team in the four major North American sports to win four consecutive championships, beginning in 1980. He also served as the team’s president and Chairman of the Board until taking over the expansion Florida Panthers in 1993-94.
“From his iconic bow tie, retired by the Islanders organization, to his devilish sense of humor, Bill truly was one of a kind,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “He grew up in close proximity to NHL greatness, near the Montreal Forum, where his passion for the game at all levels developed at an early age. He attended as many games as he could in junior rinks, where he was as at home as at an NHL Board of Governors meeting — and his counsel was sought out at both.
“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.”
Torrey’s Islanders — led by coach Al Arbour and homegrown future Hall of Famers Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies, as well as imported goaltender Billy Smith — won 19 consecutive playoff series, which still stands as the longest such streak in pro sports.
Torrey, whose trademark bow tie adorns a banner hanging in the rafters at Nassau Coliseum and Barclays Center, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995. The Montreal native known as “The Architect” is survived by four sons and 10 grandchildren.
Torrey, who spent the last several years of his career as an advisor to Florida general manager Dale Tallon and also serving as the franchise’s alternate governor, was at work like usual in his Panthers office earlier this week.
“Bill was a giant of our game,” Tallon said. “He was the architect of a dynasty, a Hockey Hall of Famer and most importantly, a committed family man. I’m heartbroken by the news of his passing. Bill was a mentor and a dear friend who was instrumental in bringing me to South Florida to work alongside him. He was a wonderful person who never lost his passion for the game and loved being at the rink.”
Brian Burke, a longtime hockey executive, asked Torrey for some advice in the early 1990s and remembered getting about a four-sentence answer on how to build a club.
Burke never forgot any of those words, and they became the guide that he’s used ever since — even when putting together the 2010 U.S. Olympic Team that lost a classic gold-medal game against host Canada at the Vancouver Games.
And what Torrey did, Burke said, will never be matched.
“Bill Torrey won four consecutive Stanley Cups with the Islanders,” Burke said in 2011. “It’ll never be done again. In a salary cap system I think you’re lucky to win two Cups in 10 years. But you’ll never win four in a row again with this format.”
William A. Torrey was born June 23, 1934 in Montreal. He attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, studying business and psychology. His first hockey front-office job was with the AHL’s Pittsburgh Hornets in the 1960s, and his NHL career started in 1967 when he was hired as executive vice president of the California Seals — another expansion club.