|Jim Gregory, who has been handing out rings and conducting official business at the Hall of Fame over the years, will now get his day to bask in the spotlight.
The Hockey Hall of Fame.
Jim Gregory, 75 and still working as the NHL’s Senior Vice President, Hockey Operations, went to work every day with the intention of getting the job done right. Trainer, coach, scout, general manager, director of NHL's Central Scouting, overseer of officials and the NHL's video-goal review headquarters, he's mastered them all and has greatly advanced the interests of the NHL and its fans. That's why we're still working him: Maybe one day we'll find something he can't do well.
Don't bet on it.
Despite being busier than a short-order cook at breakfast, Jim and his wife, Rosalie, have raised a wonderful family. It was appropriate then that Jim and Rosalie were returning from a friend's 50th wedding anniversary celebration when he received the call that he'd been selected for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
A loving couple, alone together, sharing the reward for a lifetime of significant achievement.
"We had to find a place to pull off the road, it was overwhelming," Gregory said. "I was so caught up in the events of the day that I had forgotten it was the day the selection committee was meeting."
Until this year, Jim had been a member of that selection committee. He had a health problem – since overcome – and was advised to reduce his workload. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman constantly is telling Gregory to slow down, and you know how hard that is for a boss to say. One of the duties Gregory relinquished was his post on the selection committee.
Like most Ontario boys, Gregory was a hockey player and better than he'll admit. But when he didn't make it into juniors, he got a job with the Smythes and performed a variety of roles with the Maple Leafs' junior teams, the St. Michael's Majors, the Neil McNeils and the Toronto Marlboros. He coached the minor-league Vancouver Canucks in the 1960s and scouted for the Maple Leafs before being named general manager in 1969, a post he held for 10 years.
Toronto fans fondly remember Gregory's Maple Leafs of the 1970s, peopled with terrific competitors like Borje Salming, Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Ron Ellis, Tiger Williams, Mike Palmateer, Errol Thompson and Ian Turnbull. NHL coaches Ron Wilson and Randy Carlyle were young players with the Maple Leafs when Gregory got fired in 1979.
Gregory's "failing?" The reason he was fired?
The Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup six times during his 10-year tenure. The real reason he got fired – back-office politics – you couldn't get Gregory to say that publicly in a million years. Ask him about an ancient controversy and Gregory pauses and goes into a hockey version of "Great weather we're having, eh?"
But he does look back at that team with fondness. He really enjoyed directing an NHL team.
"It was a thrilling time for me. There were so many good players on that team," Gregory said. "I always equate it to being assigned to do a painting and having it almost done and somebody comes along and takes the brush out of your hand. That's what's in my head and I'll live with that. As a team, we just didn't make it."
Gregory was told that if he had the four players who joined him in the Class of 2007 – Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis, Ron Francis and Mark Messier – he'd still be the Maple Leafs’ general manager. He laughed heartily.
"I don't think there's any doubt about that," he said.
His former team quickly was broken up and plunged in the standings. The Maple Leafs would wander aimlessly for a decade. But Gregory was snapped up by the NHL and put in charge of Central Scouting. His duties steadily increased as he showed he could handle larger tasks along with the ones he already had mastered.
Think about it, Jim Gregory has worked for only two employers since 1953. He sat with quiet pride as Pat Quinn, a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee and a fellow former Maple Leafs general manager, read the inscription on his plaque:
"Jim Gregory began his career as a trainer with the St. Mike's Majors. He quickly moved into management, winning three Memorial Cups with the Majors and the Toronto Marlboros. After apprenticing under Punch Imlach, he became the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager at the age of 33 where he guided his club to the playoffs in eight of ten years and becoming one of the first to recognize Europe as a talent pool. Gregory joined the NHL Central Scouting in 1979 and moved into Hockey Operations in 1986, helping oversee the implementation of video-goal review."
"I'm not trying to be humble because I don't think I'm a humble person, but I just couldn't believe the selection committee put me in this category with all these great people," Gregory said. "I've come to realize there's nothing I can do about it. I just have to accept it and appreciate it and try to live up to the honor that I've been bestowed."
Gregory was part of the process of selecting so many members of the Hockey Hall of Fame that he struggles with his selection. Others don't. Gregory was reminded that people will be coming here for years to come and will see his plaque.
"Isn't that something?" Gregory said, and the thought seemed to take his breath away. "It's hard to believe. Maybe it will be my grandson or my great-grandson. It's an unbelievable honor. I've had the pleasure of knowing many of the people on these walls and working with quite a few of them. The only word you can use is mind-boggling."
Gregory was told it appeared he had a two-horse race in his head between pride and humility. Which would emerge the victor, he was asked. Dead heat, he indicated.
"I'm certainly proud and humble to be given this honor. I go back to when I was growing up and so many people helped me along the way. So many," Gregory said. "I've been trying to think and reflect on all of them in recent days. I feel that I'm representing all those people who helped me in so many ways."
Gregory speaks of the people who helped him, but there were many people in The Great Hall of the Hockey Hall of Fame alone that he helped and many more who couldn't be here. Many people feel Jim Gregory is here, in part, because of the large number of people he helped in their careers.
"I tried to pay back the way I was treated and I've been fortunate to have many people with whom I've been associated do well in hockey and it makes me very proud," he said.