Skip to Main Content

Ziegler, former NHL president, dies at 84

Served from 1977-92, brokered deal that brought four WHA teams into League @NHLdotcom

John A. Ziegler Jr., the NHL's fourth president, died Thursday. He was 84.

"The NHL family was saddened to learn of the passing of former League President John Ziegler," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "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 two to 11 percent, 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."

Video: Remembering former NHL President John Ziegler

Ziegler was born on Feb. 9, 1934, in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. He played amateur hockey from 1949-69, but it was his work in legal circles that brought him to the NHL, having graduated from the University of Michigan Law School in 1957.

Ziegler began to do legal work for Olympia Stadium and the Detroit Red Wings in 1959. As a result of that association, he became involved with the Red Wings and from 1970-77 served as Detroit's vice president, general counsel and alternate governor on the League's Board of Governors. In that capacity, Ziegler worked on many of the NHL's committees and was involved in various aspects of the League's litigation and negotiations with the NHL Players' Association.

"On behalf of Marian Ilitch and myself, we'd like to extend our sincere condolences to the Ziegler family," Ilitch Holdings president and CEO and Red Wings governor Christopher Ilitch said. "We are extremely grateful for the guidance and support John provided as president of the NHL when our family purchased the Red Wings in 1982, and we are equally thankful for the 17 years he spent with the organization prior to that. John left an immeasurable mark on both the Red Wings organization and the sport of hockey worldwide, and he will be deeply missed."

He would be elected chairman of the League's board in 1976. He was elected NHL president and chief executive officer on June 22, 1977, succeeding Clarence Campbell, who had served in the position from 1946, following Mervyn "Red" Dutton.

Ziegler assumed his duties on Aug. 26, 1977.

In 1979, Ziegler helped broker a deal that brought four World Hockey Association teams (Quebec Nordiques, Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Winnipeg Jets) into the NHL, ending the rival league as a threat after a seven-year battle that sent salaries soaring. In the late 1980s, the NHL also began an expansion plan that saw the League grow from 21 teams in 1990 to 30 within a decade. 

He received the Lester Patrick Trophy for service to hockey in the United States in 1984 and was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987 in the Builders category.

Ziegler stepped down as president in June 1992. Gary Bettman became the NHL's first commissioner on Feb. 1, 1993.

After leaving the NHL, Ziegler worked at a Detroit law firm and served as an alternate governor for the Chicago Blackhawks.

"We mourn the passing of John Ziegler," Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz said. "His positive imprint on the game of hockey cannot ever be overstated. But more than that, John was a friend, to me and to my family. Our thoughts and prayers go out to John and his family. While he will be missed, his legacy and contributions to our sport will carry on forever."

View More