Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Chairmen of the NHL Board

Happy New Year everybody.

There's a lot of talk out there today about Jeremy Jacobs, chairman of the NHL Board of Governors, and his role in the ongoing NHL lockout. There isn't a lot of information about who was chairman before him and what the chairman actually does.

The chairman, officially the Chairman of Governors, is elected from the NHL governors for a two-year term at the NHL's annual general meeting in June. According to Article VII of the NHL constitution the chairman must hold a position as governor or alternate governor of a member club for at least five years before he is eligible for election.

The chairman presides over NHL board of governor meetings in accordance with Robert's Rules of Order, which the NHL adopted as its rules of order (see section 5.17 of the NHL constitution). If you wish to learn more about parliamentary procedure you can almost certainly find a copy of the book at your local public library, or a free version online (the copyright lapsed many years ago).

Prior to the creation of the office of chairman the league president presided at meetings.

The chairman doesn't have any explicit power over the board, as far as directing policy goes. He simply presides over the league's (internal) meetings and is supposed to do so in an impartial manner; he has as much power as any other governor. The league's public representative is the commissioner.

The following men have been chairman in the league's history:

1953-57 - Conn Smythe, Maple Leafs
1957-64 - Walter Brown, Bruins
1964-66 - James D. Norris, Black Hawks
1966-68 - Bruce Norris, Red Wings
1968-70 - Bill Jennings, Rangers
1970-72 - Bill Wirtz, Black Hawks
1972-74 - Bruce Norris, Red Wings
1974-76 - Bill Wirtz, Black Hawks
1976-78 - John Ziegler, Red Wings
1978-92 - Bill Wirtz, Blackhawks
1992-94 - Bruce McNall, Kings
1994-95 - Vacant
1995-2007 - Harley Hotchkiss, Flames
2007-present - Jeremy Jacobs, Bruins

Conn Smythe was the inaugural chairman in 1953 and stayed in that post until 1957. Walter Brown, head of the Boston Garden-Arena Company (owners of the Bruins), succeeded Smythe. Brown died in 1964 and James D. Norris, co-owner of the Black Hawks with Arthur Wirtz, replaced him. Norris himself died of a heart attack less than two years later and his half-brother Bruce, owner of the Red Wings, replaced him.

From the late '60s to late '70s no chairman was re-elected for a consecutive term and it changed hands between Bruce Norris, the Rangers' Bill Jennings, Black Hawks president Bill Wirtz (whose father Arthur gained complete ownership of the Black Hawks after Norris's death) and Red Wings general counsel and alternate governor John Ziegler.

After Clarence Campbell stepped down as league president in 1977 Ziegler was appointed President. He remained in his position as Chairman of the Board until 1978 when Bill Wirtz was elected to succeed him.

Wirtz gained complete ownership of the Black Hawks in 1983 after his father died and was re-elected league chairman an unprecedented six times, staying in the position until he resigned in 1992.

The Kings' flamboyant owner Bruce McNall was elected to replace Wirtz after the 1992 players strike. President John Ziegler was ousted and league counsel Gil Stein was named his interim replacement while a new position, that of Commissioner, was created and candidates for the position were sought out. Gary Bettman was eventually named the NHL's first commissioner, the office of President superseded and replaced entirely. McNall resigned as chairman in 1994 amidst legal troubles: a $90 million loan with Bank of America was called and he couldn't afford paying it, necessitating selling the majority of the Kings. He also faced allegations within the NHL's circles of conspiring with Gil Stein to have Stein enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Eventually it was learned that he had fraudulently obtained $236 million in loans over the preceding decade and he spent several years in prison for fraud and conspiracy as a result.

The lockout-shortened 1994-95 season was played without a board chairman in place. Apparently the labour strife took the NHL's attention away from electing a new chairman.

In 1995 Flames co-owner Harley Hotchkiss was elected chairman and was re-elected five times (for a total of 12 years), the closest anyone has come to Bill Wirtz's 14 consecutive years (18 total) as NHL board chairman. Hotchkiss resigned the position in 2007 (he died in 2011) and Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs has been chairman ever since.

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