Bill Torrey made expansion teams competitive with a simple philosophy that eluded many of his rivals. He established winning franchises by holding on to young talent acquired through the draft with an iron fist. He refused to make impatient trades for immediate results at the expense of the future. When a trade was feasible, he sought role players who would fit into the team concept.
Torrey was born in Montreal, Quebec and attended St. Lawrence University where he studied business and psychology. He began his administrative career in hockey with the American Hockey League's Pittsburgh Hornets during the 1960s. Prior to the 1968-69 NHL season, he became Executive Vice-president of the Oakland Seals. Torrey elevated the Seals from the West Division basement to a second place finish in his first year. They made the playoffs two straight years then Torrey departed the organization during the 1970-71 season.
The expansion New York Islanders selected Torrey to be their first general manager on February 15, 1972. He maintained this role until the end of the 1991-92 schedule. The Islanders appointed him vice-president in 1973, president five years later and chairman of the board in 1989. At the start of the 1992-93 season, Torrey relinquished his position but remained with the team as a consultant.
Torrey's Islanders won six Patrick Division titles and became the first US-based franchise to win four consecutive Stanley Cups between 1980 and 1983. Under his direction the team enjoyed fourteen consecutive winning seasons from 1974-75 to 1987-88.
"Bow-tie Bill" also made good use of his minor pro system as a means of developing young players. He served on the executives of the Fort Worth Wings and Texans and later the Indianapolis Checkers. The Islanders' affiliate clubs won three CHL and two IHL championships.
Torrey was named NHL executive-of-the-year by The Sporting News in 1974-75 and The Hockey News in 1976-77. In 1983 he was the recipient of the Lester Patrick Award and was elected to the Long Island Hall of Fame.
On April 19, 1993, Torrey embarked on a new challenge as the president of the expansion Florida Panthers. His new team began well in 1993-94 by winning 33 games and accumulating 83 points, both NHL records for first year clubs. Two years later the Panthers reached the Stanley Cup final, the fastest trip ever by an expansion club. Torrey worked endless hours spreading the popularity of hockey across south Florida and was a key reason why Miami was granted the 2001 NHL Entry Draft.
Torrey was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995.