Former NHL President, Flyers Exec Gilbert Stein Dies at 94

Gil Stein. Photos courtesy of the Stein family

Gilbert Stein, who served as president of the NHL, as well as executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Philadelphia Flyers, died on March 24. He was 94.

Stein, who lived in Gladwyne, also had an extensive legal career in Philadelphia, serving as the city’s deputy city controller, deputy district attorney and executive director of the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

In addition, he was a special counsel to U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, an adjunct professor of sports law at Villanova University, the Philadelphia regional director of the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board in the late 1950s, an adjunct professor of business law at Drexel University in 1967, and a litigation partner for five years in the 1970s at what is now Blank Rome.

The Philadelphia native spent two years in the Army upon graduating high school, then earned a bachelor’s degree at Temple University and a law degree from Boston University School of Law.

Son Andy Stein said his father’s initial sports passion was basketball and that he played the sport in the Army. The base commanders wanted him to play on the travel team, but only sergeants and above were allowed to travel off base, so they made him a sergeant.

While in law school in Boston, Stein frequently watched Boston Celtics games, taking copious scouting notes.

“Every time the Philadelphia Warriors traveled to Boston, Dad would meet the team at the train station and hand Coach Eddie Gottlieb a detailed scouting report on the Celtics, which the Warriors then used to full advantage in the game,” Andy Stein said during his eulogy.
But hockey eventually became his primary sports love.

“I loved what I saw,” Stein said in a 1992 Jewish Exponent article, detailing how he watched the very first Flyers home game in 1967. “I would attend the 76ers game and, the next night, the Flyers. Three or four weeks into that season, I became bored with basketball. We became passionate hockey fans.”

Gil Stein in the late 1960s

That passion grew in 1972 when Flyers owner Ed Snider hired him as the team’s general counsel. He later became the team’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Having a father involved with the Flyers made for “great days,” Andy Stein said.

“The Flyers, also known as The Broad Street Bullies, were the most exciting team in all of sports. Once, in Vancouver, Flyers players climbed into the stands to battle the fans. Dad was the lawyer who managed to keep them out of trouble in court. He loved those guys, and they loved him,” Andy Stein said in his eulogy. “Many people think of those Flyers players as vicious thugs. They were tough all right, but the love they had for each other was so strong that they have remained friends and brothers for life.”

In 1977, he joined the NHL front office as vice president and general counsel. Fifteen years later, when the league’s president resigned, Stein was named his successor.

His tenure was short-lived, however, as the league also announced that it was eliminating the position of president and planned to name a permanent commissioner.

Although Stein was interested in the commissioner role, the NHL instead selected Gary Bettman, who remains in the position today.

“His attitude was that, ‘I’m not here to be a placeholder,’” Andy Stein said.

Stein’s tenure was marked by the addition of two franchises — the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and the Florida Panthers. While the entry fees were important to the league, Andy Stein said, it also brought Michael Eisner, the CEO of the Walt Disney Co., and Wayne Huizenga of Blockbuster Video, Waste Management and AutoNation fame, into the NHL’s sphere of influence.

It brought a bit of controversy, too, as existing teams didn’t want to share their turf.
His 13 months in office also produced a new labor agreement with the players and a controversial induction to the Hockey Hall of Fame, as well as a later withdrawal.

Stein remained a consultant to the NHL after his tenure as president ended and later wrote, “Power Plays / An Inside Look at the Big Business of the National Hockey League.”

Gil Stein in 2008

He later served as counsel to the U.S. Select Committee on Intelligence in 1995. And in 1998 and 1999, he was part of a presidential commission that studied weapons of mass destruction.

Stein married Barbara Alderman in 1958 and had three children: son Andy, daughter Holly and son John.

“Ed Snider called him a lion in public, but he was a pussycat,” his wife told The Philadelphia Inquirer. “A most generous husband. Always a positive thinker, every job was the best job.”

Stein was a board member when the former Temple Beth Torah was founded in Northeast Philadelphia in 1965. He served as the head counselor at Pinemere Camp one summer and later was a member of Main Line Reform Temple.

In addition to his wife and children, Stein is survived by eight grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, a sister and other relatives.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here