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Ex-NHL president John Ziegler, who oversaw expansion, dies at 84

Former NHL president John Ziegler Jr., who oversaw the expansion of the league from 18 teams to 24 and opened the door for Russian-born players to compete in North America, has died at 84.

Ziegler, the NHL's fourth president, served in the role from 1977 to 1994. Two years into his tenure, the NHL merged with the World Hockey Association, adding four teams from the upstart league, including the Edmonton Oilers.

While the Winnipeg Jets, Quebec Nordiques and Hartford Whalers eventually relocated, the Oilers quickly found success in the NHL, winning four Stanley Cups between 1984 and 1988 on a team led by Wayne Gretzky.

Under Ziegler, the number of European-born NHLers rose from 2 percent to 11 percent, including the first Russian players to play in the league.

Ziegler was ousted in June 1992 by owners dissatisfied with his handling of a 10-day strike over player pensions. He was effectively the last president of the NHL, with Gary Bettman taking over as commissioner in February 1993, following an interim presidency by Gil Stein.

"The NHL family was saddened to learn of the passing of former League President John Ziegler," Bettman said. "John provided invaluable counsel during my early days as Commissioner and was always generous with his time."

Ziegler was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987.

Chicago 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."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.