For many years Andy Bathgate was the Rangers’ lone superstar. A product of the same Guelph Biltmore pipeline that brought players like Harry Howell and Lou Fontinato to New York. Bathgate played 719 games over 12 seasons for the Rangers scoring 272 goals and adding 457 assists. The 6-foot 180 pound right winger won the Hart Trophy as the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1958-59 and made eight All Star appearances for the Rangers. He was also indirectly responsible for the introduction of the goaltenders mask when his backhand shot ripped into the face of Montreal’s Jacques Plante on November 1, 1959 at Madison Square Garden. Montreal coach Toe Blake had a choice of allowing Plante to wear the mask or let one of the Rangers house netminders, Joe Schaefer or Arnie Nocks, tend goal for the Canadiens. He chose Plante and the mask and history was made.
But in a rebuilding move, Muzz Patrick sent the 32-year-old Bathgate and forward Don McKenney to Toronto for wingers Dick Duff, Bob Nevin and Billy Collins as well as young defensemen Arnie Brown and Rod Seiling on February 22, 1964. Bathgate went on to win the only Stanley Cup of his career that spring with Toronto, while Nevin, Brown and Seiling became mainstays in New York.
Bathgate always claimed that he was traded because he tried to talk Patrick out of trading young Jean Ratelle. “Look what happened to me when the Rangers wanted to trade Jean Ratelle” Bathgate told reporters. “I was captain at the time and I felt that I had something to say. I really put forth a case for keeping Ratelle and Muzz Patrick told me right then and there, ‘you’re getting too big for your britches’. Right after that I was history. I was traded because I spoke up for a guy who they didn’t think was tough enough.”
Emile Francis: “I was involved in the Bathgate trade because I had been coaching for Guelph. The key for us dealing with Toronto was the future. I had been coaching in that league for two years. In those days the NHL teams owned sponsor clubs. Toronto had two sponsor clubs the Toronto Marlboros and the Toronto St Mikes. And I knew those two organizations like the back of my hand. So since we were going to deal with Toronto, we were going to dip into their farm system. By then I was the assistant General Manager and we kept going back and forth and back and forth talking about Rod Seiling and Arnie Brown, Bob Nevin, Dickie Duff. Shit I knew those guys because I had seen them all the time. We played them a lot and I had a book on all those guys, believe me.”
Ironically on the night of the trade the Rangers were scheduled to play the Maple Leafs in Toronto. So the players involved joined their new teams simply by switching locker rooms.
Bob Nevin: “I got the phone call about five o’clock from King Clancy, the assistant GM of the Leafs, He said ‘Bob, when you come down to the Gardens for the game tonight go to the other dressing room. We just traded you to the Rangers. Good Luck. Bye.
I thought, Holy Cow what does a guy have to do? I was 25-years old and we had won the Stanley Cup two years in a row and I thought I was a pretty solid player for the team. I was on the ice in Chicago when we won the first Cup. We got a penalty and they put Davey Keon and myself out there and we were both pretty young guys so I thought that I was going to be there for quite a while.
I knew it was part of the game but it was bit of a shocker for me. They didn’t have the draft back then. I signed what they called a “C” form when I was 14 -15 years old and that meant that I was sort of owned by the Maple Leafs, which was fine with me because I grew up in Toronto. So it was a pretty big shock. After winning two Stanley Cups you figure the team’s pretty solid and they weren’t going to be making any changes at that point.
It was tough that first game playing against the Leafs. I think half of my passes were going to Frank Mahovlich because we had played on the same line. before I realized I better not do that he’s not my line mate anymore.”
Sal Messina: “I was traveling with the team at the time and we were in the hotel room in Toronto and the two dressing rooms are literally 15 feet apart. And there was a lot of noise out in the hall and we go out and they’re saying ‘Andy got traded, Andy got traded’. It was shocking. And they just switched rooms. But it was good for Andy he won a Cup.
Rod Seiling: “It was a shock. I was only 18 years old and you don’t expect to be traded when you’re 18 playing Junior hockey. It was more of a shock because I heard about it on the radio not from the Leafs. I think I was well received by the veterans, there was no animosity. I worked very hard because I wanted to make the Rangers. I came to that first training camp with the objective of making the team which I did.”