John Ziegler Jr., a Michigan attorney who became the first American to lead the NHL as its president from 1977 to 1992, has died, the league announced Friday. Ziegler, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, was 84.
Ziegler had done legal work for the Detroit Red Wings and their arena, the Olympia, before he became the NHL’s fourth president. During his term, the NHL continued its expansion and absorbed four teams from the rival World Hockey Assn. — the Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets. His tenure also was marked by a 10-day players’ strike that delayed the start of the 1992 Stanley Cup playoffs, and the league’s struggles to secure a national TV contract in the United States. The labor unrest contributed to his loss of support among owners, ending his tenure.
“The NHL family was saddened to learn of the passing of former League President John Ziegler,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “From 1977 until 1992, as just the fourth president in NHL history, John oversaw the growth of the League from 18 to 24 teams, including the 1979 addition of four teams from the WHA. He was instrumental in the NHL’s transition to becoming a more international League — during his tenure, the share of European-born players in the NHL grew from 2 to 11%, players from the former Soviet Union first entered the League and games between NHL and European Clubs became a nearly annual tradition.
“On a personal note, John provided invaluable counsel during my early days as commissioner and was always generous with his time. His life of service to our game was recognized in 1984 with the awarding of the Lester Patrick Trophy and in 1987 with induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. On behalf of the NHL’s Board of Governors, we extend our deepest sympathies to his entire family and many friends.”