SUNRISE, Fla. — Bill Torrey, the jovial bow-tie wearing Hall of Famer who was the general manager of the New York Islanders when they won four consecutive Stanley Cups in the 1980s and eventually became the first president of the Florida Panthers, has died.
Torrey died at his home in South Florida on Wednesday night, the NHL said. He was 83.
No cause was immediately revealed, though he was not known to be in any sort of poor health. 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.”
Torrey left an indelible impact on hockey, particularly the Islanders and the Panthers.
He was the first employee in Islanders history when the franchise was born in 1972, and the team raised a banner in his honour years ago calling him “The Architect.” Torrey then became Florida’s first president, and the Panthers gave him a banner in 2010 with the number “93” — a nod to 1993, when the team played its first game.
“He was a pioneer, who became a mentor and even better friend, to so many in the industry,” Islanders president and general manager Garth Snow said. “The teams he constructed set records that may never be broken, including the four straight Stanley Cup Championships and 19 straight playoff series wins.”
Florida reached the Stanley Cup final in 1996 under Torrey, falling to Colorado. Earlier that season, Torrey went into the Hall of Fame as a builder who specialized in taking expansion teams and turning them into quick winners.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman called Torrey “a true legend of our game.”
“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,” Bettman said.
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.
He went to the Islanders in 1972, then to the Panthers in 1993 and never left.
“An original Panther and the forefather of our franchise, Mr. Torrey had a champion’s spirit and lived for the game,” Panthers owner Vincent Viola said. “His indomitable energy and his commitment to hockey and to South Florida was inspiring. It was an honour to work with him and know him.”
Torrey is survived by four sons, a brother, a sister and 10 grandchildren. Funeral arrangements have not been revealed.