"Sam Pollock's legacy extends far beyond the nine Stanley Cup championships the Canadiens won in his 14 years of leadership," Bettman said in a statement. "His genius was seeing genius in others - players, coaches, future executives - before anyone else did, and his influence around the hockey world was unmatched. The game has lost a giant. We send condolences to his family and friends."
Pollock died of cancer in Toronto on Wednesday. He was 81.
The Montreal native joined the Canadiens as a scout in 1947 and served as general manager from 1964 to 1978, during which time he built a reputation as the shrewest deal-maker and evaluator of talent in the league. He was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 1978.
The Canadiens current G.M. Bob Gainey, a former team captain who was drafted by Pollock, called him "a source of inspiration for everyone around him, and especially the players.
"His leadership was contagious and he proved to be a model for all the players who played under him in the 1960s and during the years I was part of the team. That unique environment which we were part of during those winning years in the 1970s played a significant role in preparing many of us to embark on a front office career in the NHL."
More than a dozen Montreal players from the 1970s went on to become GMs or coaches in the NHL, including Gainey, Serge Savard, Ken Dryden, Doug Risebrough, Rejean Houle, Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson and Mario Tremblay.