Andy Bathgate, a Hockey Hall of Fame member who had his No. 9 retired by the New York Rangers, died Friday. He was 83.
A two-time First-Team All-Star forward with New York, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Rangers retired his number in 2009.
"Andy Bathgate was a strong leader, a consistently prolific scorer and a fierce competitor," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "Andy was an All-Star, a Hart Trophy winner, a Stanley Cup champion and a Hall of Famer who earned the respect of the entire hockey world. The NHL family sends heartfelt condolences to his family and his many friends."
Bathgate scored 349 goals and 973 points in 1,069 NHL games with the Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Detroit Red Wings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Vancouver Canucks.
Video: NHL Live remembers Andy Bathgate
"Today the New York Rangers and the hockey world lost a beloved and cherished member of its community with the passing of our Legendary Blueshirt, Andy Bathgate," Rangers president Glen Sather said. "Andy's Hall of Fame career and many tremendous accomplishments place him among the greatest players who have ever worn a Rangers jersey. Those fortunate enough to have known him fondly remember how he always carried himself with the utmost class and dignity. The entire Rangers organization sends our most heartfelt condolences to Andy's wife Merle and the Bathgate family."
Bathgate's career almost ended before it started. He sustained a serious knee injury while playing junior hockey in Guelph and joined the rebuilding Rangers in 1952. Two years later, he made the NHL for good and scored 20 goals in his first full season.
The Winnipeg native was a key to the Rangers' improvement in the late 1950s; they made the Stanley Cup Playoffs three years in a row from 1956-58 after failing to qualify for five consecutive years. He won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most valuable player in 1958-59, a season when New York collapsed down the stretch and lost the final playoff berth to Toronto on the final night of the regular season. Bathgate's 40-goal, 88-point season was the best in Rangers history to that point.
"Andy set the bar for what it means to be a Ranger," former New York teammate Rod Gilbert said. "He was a true innovator of the game and my idol. As a young player, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to play with him and learn from him. He was class personified, on and off the ice. He will be sorely missed by everyone in the Rangers organization and throughout the hockey world."
Though Bathgate was known as one of the first successful practitioners of the slap shot, one of his most famous games involved a backhand: He whipped one that cut Montreal Canadiens goaltender Jacques Plante in a game on Nov. 1, 1959; when Plante came back after getting stitched up, he was wearing a mask, and became the first goaltender to do so on a regular basis.
Three years later, Bathgate scored 28 goals and tied Bobby Hull for the NHL lead in scoring, though Hull won the Art Ross Trophy by virtue of having scored more goals. The biggest of Bathgate's goals that season came on a penalty shot during a late-season game against Detroit that was instrumental in getting New York back to the playoffs for the first time since 1958.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing really, especially the way the atmosphere was in the Garden that night," he remembered years later. "If I missed, I would have been a complete bum, but I scored, so I was a hero for years. No doubt that was one of the highlights of my career in New York. That put us in the playoffs and the Red Wings out."
Bathgate had a goal and two assists in the Rangers' six-game loss to the Maple Leafs in 1962. Two years later, he was with Toronto for the third of their three consecutive Stanley Cup championships after a late-season trade. It was the only Stanley Cup of his career.
Bathgate played another season with Toronto, two with Detroit and two with Pittsburgh (he scored the first goal in Penguins history) to complete his NHL career, though he played professionally until 1974-75, when he finally called it a career at age 42.
Stubbs: Bathgate changed face of hockey with one shot