Gilbert Stein (born 1928) is a former National Hockey League executive, serving as vice-president and legal counsel for nearly 15 years before becoming president in 1992. He served in that role for a year until the owners chose Gary Bettman as a commissioner. Stein was initially inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1993 but withdrew after allegations that he had improperly manipulated his own nomination.
From Philadelphia, Stein attended Temple University and received a law degree from Boston University in 1952. He worked for the City of Philadelphia in several roles, including deputy district attorney, executive director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, and regional director of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. Stein then joined the law firm of Blank Rome Comisky & McCauley in Philadelphia. He was general counsel for the Philadelphia Flyers hockey club, and in 1976 became the Flyers' executive vice-president and chief operating officer. He was also the first president of the Flyers' minor league affiliate, the Maine Mariners.
Joins the NHL
A year later, Stein left the Flyers to join the NHL, where he served as vice-president and general counsel for 15 years.
On June 22, 1992, Stein was announced as the new president of the league and formally took the position, succeeding John Ziegler. Ziegler had been forced out by owners dissatisfied with his agreement with the NHLPA, that ended a ten-day players' strike initiated by Bob Goodenow.
As president, Stein greatly expanded the visibility of the president's office during his term, often seen at games and being frequently interviewed on air and in print. Among his early actions after becoming president was a shake-up of league officers, ousting several vice-presidents, including Brian O'Neill, who had been the league's disciplinarian under Ziegler. Stein personally took over responsibility for league discipline, making it mandatory that suspended players pay their fines. He also implemented a policy of suspending players from practices on non-game days, instead of having them miss games. He advocated the use of NHL players at the 1994 Winter Olympics, but ran into opposition on the issue from team owners.
The league hired an executive search firm to help find a new commissioner at the same time that Stein's appointment was announced. Before the end of 1992, NHL governors selected Gary Bettman to become the league's first commissioner, starting on February 1, 1993. Stein had been a finalist for the job, but bowed out to avoid an internecine battle, and threw his support to Bettman.
When Stein's term ended on July 1, 1993, the duties of the president were given to the commissioner. Stein then served as advisor to the commissioner for over three months, retiring from the league in October.
Hockey Hall of Fame controversy
In March 1993, Stein was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. When news of Stein's election was announced on April 2, it caused an uproar in the Canadian media. Bruce McNall, chairman of the NHL board of governors, who wrote a long letter recommending Stein's nomination to the Hall, was accused of orchestrating the whole arrangement as part of a severance package for Stein, in gratitude for his cooperation in stepping aside in favor of Bettman. McNall denied that any such deal was made.
Within days, NHL commissioner Bettman ordered an investigation into the election process. In August 1993, the NHL counsel appointed by Bettman issued a report finding that Stein had not violated any laws or league by-laws in being elected to the Hall of Fame, but, in that counsel's opinion, Stein had "improperly manipulated the process of nomination and election to the Hall to assure his election." The issues were these:
- The new Hall of Fame board, without consulting the NHL board of governors or newly installed commissioner Gary Bettman, who assumed office Feb. 1, decided to change the voting procedures. Nominees now needed only a simple majority to get elected, and the vote would not be by secret ballot but by a show of hands.
- the majority of the Hall's board were NHL appointees, and Stein had requested that the board amend its rules regarding the election of "builders," so builders could be elected with a simple majority of votes from the board, instead of the traditional 75 percent;
- two weeks before the Hall of Fame's annual meeting on March 30, 1993, Stein had, with Bettman's prior approval, replaced several members of the board. Two weeks before their March 30 meeting to vote on nominees, Stein summarily replaced three members of the existing board: longtime Chicago Blackhawks executive Tommy Ivan, former executive director of the NHLPA Alan Eagleson, and former NHL executive vice-president Brian O'Neill. Ivan, who was 82 at the time, was never given an explanation for his dismissal. Eagleson was under FBI investigation for misappropriation of union funds. And O'Neill—who was nominated for the Hall himself but not elected—had been removed from his former NHL position by Stein in June 1992, O'Neill and Stein were said not to be friendly.
- a quarter of the board then consisted of NHL employees,
- secret ballots were not required by the board, but instead builder nominees were elected with a show of hands,
- at Stein's request, the board passed a resolution preventing board members, or former board members, from being eligible for election to the Hall of Fame as builders until three years after their removal from the board (the resolution blocked the election of Brian O'Neill, who had just left the board).
In view of the counsel's opinion, Stein withdrew his nomination and was not inducted. Mr. O'Neill was inducted the following year.
Stein told his side of the story in his 1997 book, Power Plays: An Inside Look at the Big Business of the National Hockey League (Birch Lane Press), pointing out that:
- members other than builders can be elected by simple majority,
- board members had been changed, with Bettman's approval, to represent different groups,
- after the HOF public flap had been aired, Bettman did not replace any of the new board members who had been appointed by Stein with Bettman's approval,
- show of hands votes were common at HOF board meetings,
- Bruce McNall (Chairman of the NHL Board of Governors) had nominated Stein for election to the HOF on his own, not at Stein's request,
- Mr. O'Neill and Scotty Morrison, both HOF board members, had tried to engineer their own election to the Hall of Fame, and Stein--with full approval of Bruce McNall--had gotten involved to stop them from doing so,
- other NHL presidents (Clarence Campbell and John Ziegler) had been inducted into the Hall while still serving as president,
- he was going to withdraw his nomination anyway.
He did admit:
- to becoming obsessed with his own election to the Hockey Hall of Fame
- to encouraging and assisting NHL chairman Bruce McNall in processing his nomination
- not following requests from Bettman and others that he withdraw his nomination, in response to media clamor
- and to feeling that he deserved the honor, having served as NHL president for close to a year and as the NHL's first and only VP/General Counsel for 15 years.
Stein continued to serve as Bettman's special advisor for three months after conclusion of the HOF incident, retiring in October 1993.
Post NHL career
After retiring from the NHL, Stein served in Washington as special counsel to the U.S. Senate's Select Committee on Intelligence, and subsequently as Special Assistant to U.S. Senator Arlen Specter, who was then serving as vice chairman of the Commission looking into the effectiveness of U.S. government agencies in dealing with the threat of weapons of mass destruction, a commission appointed by President Clinton.
Stein's book, Power Plays, was published in 1997.
Since 2000, Stein has served as an adjunct professor at Villanova University Law School, teaching sports law.
- Stein, Gil (1997). Power Play: An Inside Look at the Big Business of the National Hockey League. Birch Lane Press.
- A Hall of Shame Candidate
- Is NHL ready for Stein
- Gil Stein (NHL President 1992-1993)
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Gary Bettman (title changed to NHL Commissioner)
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