John Ziegler's tenure as NHL president began in 1977 with cantankerous Harold Ballard mocking him, in public, as an "office clerk" and a "know-nothing shrimp."
Such comments by the late owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs became much of the soundtrack for Ziegler's tumultuous 15-year reign as the league's president.
Ziegler, 58, is expected to announce today that he will resign on Sept. 30. Typical of the confusion during the Ziegler era, however, he was reported at various times Thursday to have resigned or been fired.
The NHL Board of Governors will hold a conference call this morning to vote on the terms of Ziegler's settlement. His contract, which runs through the 1995-96 season, pays him $500,000 a year.
Ratification of the settlement agreement is virtually a foregone conclusion.
Ziegler has been unavailable for comment. League spokesman Bill Wilkerson said that Ziegler will make no comments on succession until the Board of Governors' meetings, June 20-21, in Montreal. Wilkerson will conduct a media briefing in New York this afternoon.
The latest round of opposition to Ziegler surfaced in the wake of the 10-day player strike at the end of the regular season, which delayed the start of the playoffs. The league-wide perception was that several of the hard-line governors believed that Ziegler caved in.
"John lost support from the people on the negotiating committee who ordinarily he would have had on his side," one league source said. "He then relied upon others (the moderates) who he thought would support him."
As it turned out, Ziegler misgauged his support among the moderates. That faction was disgruntled because of a seemingly endless series of public relations fiascoes.
Three owners, who previously had stayed out of the fray, led the recent movement. Boston's Jeremy Jacobs, Hartford's Richard Gordon and New Jersey's John McMullen helped force the formation of a five-man succession committee.
The committee--which was chaired by Philadelphia owner Ed Snider and included Quebec's Marcel Aubut, the Kings' Bruce McNall, Detroit's Mike Ilitch and Washington's Dick Patrick--met with Ziegler earlier this week in New York and reached a settlement on his contract.
Speculation about Ziegler's possible replacement has ranged from Neal Pilson, president of CBS Sports, to Canadian Olympic Committee official Richard Pound to Mark Mulvoy, publisher of Sports Illustrated.
One official discounted Mulvoy's name, saying: "I think they're looking more for a Peter Ueberroth type."
Ziegler, who was the fourth NHL president, is more known for his failures than successes. Early in his tenure, he did guide the absorption of four teams from the World Hockey Assn., getting $6-million entry fees from Edmonton, Winnipeg, Hartford and Quebec.
But Ziegler's main flaw--at least in the United States--was an inability to get a network television contract. There hasn't been a regular-season NHL game on commercial television since 1975. And Ziegler has repeatedly said that the league didn't consider a network deal to be an immediate goal. Before last season, the NHL had to scramble to get a $5.5-million agreement with SportsChannel.
Perhaps Ziegler's lowest moment as NHL president occurred during the Stanley Cup playoffs in May of 1988. After a game, Coach Jim Schoenfeld of the New Jersey Devils yelled at referee Don Koharski: "Have another doughnut, you fat pig!"
When the NHL suspended Schoenfeld without a hearing, the Devils got an injunction to delay the suspension. At the next game, the officials refused to take the ice, in protest. Two amateur officials worked the game.
Ziegler was nowhere to be found. For days, frantic league officials couldn't track him down. Finally, Ziegler resurfaced--without an explanation.
The NHL and Ziegler were exposed to ridicule that seemingly has not let up since.
* COACHES CORNER
Jacques Demers returned to his hometown as coach of the Montreal Canadiens, and Darryl Sutter was named to the same position with the Chicago Blackhawks. C7