Former Leafs GM, longtime NHL executive Jim Gregory dies at 83

Hockey Hall of Famer Jim Gregory, who served 10 years as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs before spending decades as an NHL executive, has died. He was 83.

The NHL confirmed Gregory’s death in a news release Wednesday.

Gregory was promoted to general manager of the Maple Leafs at age 33 in 1969. He was among the first general managers in the NHL to sign and import players from Europe, including Hall of Fame defenceman Borje Salming.

He was also instrumental in acquiring future Hall of Famers Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald.

The Maple Leafs qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs eight times during Gregory’s tenure, but he was fired after Toronto was swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the quarterfinals of the 1979 playoffs.

The NHL hired Gregory as its director of Central Scouting shortly after his dismissal from the Maple Leafs. He was named executive director of hockey operations in 1986 and later became senior vice president, hockey operations and supervision.

Gregory and Brett Hull share a laugh at Hull’s induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2009. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

“It is impossible to express the extent to which the National Hockey League family adored Jim Gregory and the loss we feel as a result of his passing,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “Jim was one of the first to welcome me to the NHL almost 27 years ago and I have treasured his friendship and relied upon his wisdom every day since. Nobody loved the game more. Nobody ever served it better. We will miss him terribly.”

Born in Port Colborne, Ont., on Nov. 4, 1935, Gregory grew up in nearby Dunnville and moved to Toronto to attend St. Michael’s College School in 1953.

He won the Memorial Cup as general manager of St. Michael’s Majors in 1961 and as coach of the Toronto Marlboros in 1964, then assumed a managerial role with the Marlboros and guided them to the Memorial Cup again in 1967.

The Maple Leafs hired Gregory to coach their minor league affiliate in Vancouver for the 1967-68 season. He joined the Leafs as a scout in 1968 and was promoted to general manager a year later.

Gregory also served as chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame’s selection committee from 1998-2014, with the exception of a health-related absence in 2007, when the remaining members of the selection committee voted him into the Hall as a builder.

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