Al Arbour, who led the New York Islanders to four Stanley Cup championships in 13 years as the team's coach, announced his resignation yesterday, saying, "It's better for everyone concerned that I step aside."

Arbour, 53, will remain with the Islanders as a vice president.

The Islanders won their first Cup in the 1979-80 season and took the next three in succession, but since then they have been eliminated in the Cup finals, the Patrick Division finals and, this year, in the first round of the playoffs -- by the Washington Capitals.

It isn't clear who will be Arbour's successor, but Brian Kilrea, Arbour's assistant for the past two seasons, said General Manager Bill Torrey has told him it won't be him.

"It's time to wipe the slate clean . . . new coach, new coaching staff . . . undoubtedly some new players," said Torrey. He said he hopes to have a coach named before the June 21 NHL draft.

Arbour said at a Nassau Coliseum news conference that he told Torrey of his decision to step down at the Memorial Cup playoffs -- the Canadian junior championships -- in Portland, Ore., last week.

A possible successor to Arbour is Terry Simpson, who formerly coached the Canadian national team and who was interviewed by Torrey last week in Portland. Terry Crisp, who played for the Philadelphia Flyers in their Stanley Cup years and now coaches Monkton of the American Hockey League, also has had discussions with Torrey.

"We've had tough times and good times," said Arbour, who had led the Islanders since their second year and was the senior NHL coach in terms of service with one team. "Four straight Cups, [winning] 19 straight Stanley Cup series [a feat unmatched in NHL history] . . . It will take some kind of a hockey team to better that mark."

Torrey said of Arbour, "I've had 13 years with one of the all-time great coaches in this or any other sport. He was a player's coach when he started and he was a player's coach in the end. He always thought of his players first."

Although Arbour said he had considered retiring for the past several years, his announcement surprised some of his players -- and opponents.

Islanders veteran Denis Potvin told Newsday, "I figured he'd be with us for the duration of my career."

"From our standpoint," said Washington Coach Bryan Murray, half-jokingly, "thank goodness he's gone. Their organization will definitely miss him. After they lost in the first round, I was convinced he would want to come back and help rebuild the team, introduce new players . . . but as he said, maybe it's better if new people do that.

"As a coach, you get tied to players who have played for you for a time and it can be hard to make drastic changes, if that's what the organization feels it needs. I don't feel they need them [drastic changes]; they're a good club."

Washington General Manager David Poile said, "An organization can't stand on one player or one coach, and it's an organization I've tried to emulate.

"Al Arbour isn't leaving the organization and, whatever consulting role he has, I'm sure he'll be close with the team," Poile said. "And I don't think it will be an adversary relationship with whomever the new coach is."