Last modified on 19 April 2009, at 20:11

History of the National Hockey League/1992–present/Labour issues/Background

Gary Bettman, pictured in 2008, joined the NHL as its first commissioner in 1993.

As the 1990s began, players were uneasy with the closeness between National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) executive director Alan Eagleson and the teams' owners. As a result, Eagleson stepped down in December 1991, and was replaced by Bob Goodenow. Four years later, the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicted Eagleson on charges of racketeering, fraud, embezzlement, kickbacks and obstruction of justice over allegations that he stole millions of dollars from the NHLPA. Eagleson pleaded guilty in 1998 in a plea bargain and was fined US$1 million and sentenced to 18 months in prison. He subsequently resigned from the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Four months after replacing Eagleson, Goodenow and the NHLPA launched the first NHL players' strike on April 1, 1992. It lasted ten days and resulted in the players receiving larger playoff bonuses, increased control over the licensing of their likenesses and improved rights to free agency. It also led the owners to dismiss league president John Ziegler and replace him on an interim basis with Gil Stein. Goodenow called the strike a major moment, stating "I don't think the owners took the players seriously and it wasn't until the strike that they understood the players were serious." As part of the deal, the league also agreed to have each team play two games per season for the following two years in neutral site locations, partially to help gauge markets for potential expansion.

Desiring a fresh start, the owners replaced Stein with Gary Bettman in February 1993. Formerly a senior vice president of the National Basketball Association, Bettman replaced the position of president with that of commissioner. He was given the task of selling the game to the American market, ending labor unrest, completing expansion plans, and modernizing the league.