Players, coaches and executives around the NHL mourned the loss of EJ McGuire, Vice President of Central Scouting, who died Thursday of cancer at the age of 58.
Opening his weekly Thursday night radio show, Commissioner Gary Bettman spoke about the sad news.
"It is a sad day for all of us at the NHL and that is because we lost one of the truly, truly good people in our game and our League, and he was beloved," he said on "The NHL Hour with Commissioner Gary Bettman."
"EJ loved hockey, he loved to watch it, he loved to coach it, he loved to analyze it, he loved to talk about it. He was among the pioneers of the use of computers for hockey scouting and analysis, and he did an incredible job of directing the Central Scouting Bureau, and we will miss him terribly.
"He was only 58, and yet another member of the NHL family to lose the fight against cancer. And of course the entire NHL family sends our deepest condolences and sympathies to EJ's wife Terry and daughters Jacqueline and Erin."
Guest host E.J. Hradek remembered dealing with McGuire back in the 1980s when Hradek worked for Sports Ticker, a scores and information service, and McGuire, on his way to becoming an assistant coach with the Philadelphia Flyers, would call late at night to get results from various NHL and minor league games and sometimes strike up a conversation.
"He's like the definition of a hockey guy," Hradek said. "How many rinks he must have been in in his life. He lived it, he worked it. … That was his life. He was a true and true hockey guy and it was really sad for me to hear he had been ill and that he passed today."
Bettman related a story Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell told him earlier in the day about when he became coach of the New York Rangers in the mid-1990s and reached out to McGuire as a possible assistant. However, McGuire had already committed to coaching the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League.
"Even though he could have made four times as much money and come to the NHL, he didn't do it because he felt the need and felt it was appropriate, it was his values, to honor that commitment to the youngsters in major junior," Bettman said.
Campbell later joined the program to share his own thoughts on the news of McGuire's passing.
"EJ was one of those pure-and-simple hockey people," Campbell said. "When I retired as a player and became an assistant coach in Detroit, I run into EJ, who had moved from Philly during the Keenan years and went with Mike to Chicago -- when the assistant coaches did all of the coaching that coaches did at the time that wasn't just coaching but was handing out meal money, working out players when they were ready to come back from injuries, figuring out how to do ice time.
"EJ was the first assistant coach with the group of us assistant coaches who figured out a system other than by longhand to do ice time. He was one of the few educated assistant coaches, the rest of us were just dumb jock players," Campbell continued with a laugh. "We all gravitated toward EJ. He had a university degree and I think he had it figured out, computers at that time in the mid-'80s."
McGuire was diagnosed this past December with leiomyoscarcoma, an incurable, rare form of cancer that aggressively attacks the cells that make up the involuntary muscles within the body. Campbell said he was aware of the diagnosis but only learned recently about how sick McGuire was and how little time he had left.
"He approached me about a month ago with a number of things he thought we had to do for Central Scouting," Campbell said. "And the last thing he said in our meeting was, 'And you're going to have to replace me.' I said, 'OK, now where are you going?' and he told us the bad news.
"Right to the end, EJ was worried about Central Scouting and the League and the people who work for him."
"I really enjoyed EJ. Just the type of man he is, I think transcends hockey," Wilson said during his appearance on Bettman's show. "He was an outstanding coach, but a lot of the things he's done and worked with with the League has touched a lot of people at all levels of hockey."
Both as an assistant coach and later with Central Scouting, compiling a list of player rankings heading into each year's Entry Draft, McGuire was known for his innovative, meticulous nature and the way he treated others with dignity and respect.
"I think just the work and the listening ability and understand and taking things and applying it to what was needed in the game," Wilson said. "As a coach, he was part of a coaching crew with Mike Keenan and Jacques Martin himself and he would play a certain role in there, but I think it was a role that was real and true to him. People will tell you one of the great gifts in life is that you give time to other people, and he did that as a coach. I've seen him do that at Central Scouting and treat people with respect whether they be a star player or general manager or commissioner or a parent of a young prospect or a family member.
"Our thoughts do go out to his wife and two daughters for the time they're in right now. But he's a man who loved the game and treated people with tremendous respect, and I think he touched an awful lot of lives."
Campbell said visitation would be Monday and the funeral for McGuire scheduled for Tuesday in Oakville, Ont.