John Ziegler, the fourth president of the NHL who was instrumental in expanding the league by bringing in four teams from the rival World Hockey Association, died Thursday. He was 84.
The NHL confirmed Ziegler’s death on its website.
Ziegler helped broker the 1979 deal that moved the Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, Quebec Nordiques and Hartford Whalers into the NHL from the folding WHA. While the Jets, Nordiques and Whalers eventually relocated, the Oilers quickly found success in the NHL, winning four Stanley Cups between 1984 and 1988 on a superstar-laden team led by Wayne Gretzky.
The Oilers posted a picture of Ziegler handing the Stanley Cup to a beaming Gretzky on the team’s Twitter feed.
Ziegler’s 15-year tenure ended in June 1992, when he was forced out of office by owners dissatisfied with his handling of a 10-day strike over player pensions.
Gil Stein took over as interim president after Ziegler’s departure. Ziegler was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987.
The position of NHL president effectively ended with Ziegler, as Gary Bettman became the NHL’s first commissioner on Feb. 1, 1993.
“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,” Bettman said in a statement. “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 two to 11 per cent, 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.”
Ziegler, a native of Grosse Pointe, Mich., served as vice-president, general counsel and alternate governor of the Detroit Red Wings from 1970 to 1977 before being elected as the NHL’s fourth president, and the first American to hold the post. He succeeded Clarence Campbell, who had held the position since 1946.