During his NHL presidency, John Ziegler steered the league through a both tumultuous and exciting period. A lawyer by profession, he was often required to use every ounce of his savvy and resolve to face the contemporary problems of professional hockey.
Ziegler was born in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, on the outskirts of Detroit. He studied law at the University of Michigan then joined the prestigious Detroit firm of Dickson, Wright, McKean and Cudlip. In 1970, he set up his own firm and worked as a senior partner until taking over as NHL president in 1977.
As the successor to the legendary NHL leader Clarence Campbell, Ziegler was not intimidated. His association with the league went back to 1959 when he took on Bruce Norris and the Olympus Stadium interests as a client. In 1966, he started doing legal work for the NHL and made a favourable impression with all the important people connected to the league. A year before he became president, Ziegler succeeded Bill Wirtz as chairman of the NHL Board of Governors.
During Ziegler's presidency the NHL reached an accommodation with the World Hockey Association which led to the addition of the Edmonton Oilers, New England Whalers, Quebec Nordiques, and Winnipeg Jets in time for the 1979-80 season. He also forged a positive working relationship with the NHL Players' Association. In 1992, his experience and counsel helped resolve the players' strike that threatened the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Some of Ziegler's other duties included serving on the NHL Owner's Negotiating Committee and working on the amendment to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. During his reign league attendance grew as did media and television coverage of the sport in the United States. Ziegler stepped down as NHL president in 1992 and was succeeded by Gary Bettman, a former executive in the National Basketball Association. Ziegler was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987.
"We have a violent sport. To think that we don't, you miss what we are doing. We are putting men on the ice and asking them to skate at full speed. They have sticks in their hands to propel the puck and for checking purposes. You surround those people with hard boards and glass, and they play with more intensity when they are out there than is required in any other sport. That makes for violence. Hockey is violent, but it isn't bad." - Honoured Member John Ziegler