The National Hockey League and the entire hockey family have lost one of the most beloved men ever to have served the game.
Jim Gregory, Hockey Hall of Famer, former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager and a League executive for four decades, died Wednesday. He was 83.
Gregory was a hockey ambassador around the globe and among the first NHL general managers to sign and import players from Europe -- most notably, the legendary defenseman Borje Salming. Steeped in the game's traditions, he was integral to the implementation of some of the League's most transformational innovations -- including the use of video to review goals and the expansion of the role of the Central Scouting Bureau.
[RELATED: Gregory made impression on Hall of Famer Keon from young age | Gregory 'was like a second father' to Hall of Famer Salming]
For many of the game's greatest players and builders and hundreds of young men who aspired to such glory, Gregory's voice provided official welcome. As chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee for 16 years, he placed the phone calls that notified inductees of their honor. As the NHL senior vice president of hockey operations, he called out the names, junior and scholastic hockey affiliations and new NHL homes of draft picks at more than 30 NHL Drafts.
Perhaps most revealing of the man, however, was a personal touch that made everyone in hockey feel instantly welcomed and familiar the moment he met them. Still, he was so revered that many of his countless friends -- from Hart Trophy winners to League staffers who worked with him every day -- could not bring themselves to address him in any way other than Mr. Gregory.
Jim Gregory, who died on Wednesday at age 83, was one of the first NHL general managers to sign and import players from Europe, most notably Hall of Fame defenseman Borje Salming. Photo by Getty
"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. "Jim Gregory wasn't just a great 'hockey man,' though he certainly was that. He was a great man -- a devoted husband to Rosalie, his wife of 60 years; father to Andrea, Valerie, Maureen and David; grandfather of 13; and mentor and friend to too many to number.
"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."
Video: Teams around the NHL pay tribute to Jim Gregory
Born in Port Colborne, Ontario, 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 Vancouver, their minor league affiliate, in 1967-68. He joined them as a scout in 1968 and a year later, at age 33, was promoted to general manager.
Jim Gregory (l.), who spent 10 seasons as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, with Atlanta Flames GM Cliff Fletcher at the 1972 NHL Amateur Draft in Montreal. Photo by Getty
Gregory spent 10 years as GM in Toronto. Among his more notable moves were the acquisitions of future Hockey Hall of Fame players Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald.
The Maple Leafs qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs eight times during Gregory's 10 seasons with them, but he was let go after Toronto was swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the Quarterfinals of the 1979 playoffs.
The NHL quickly hired Gregory as its director of Central Scouting. He was named executive director of hockey operations in 1986 and later became senior vice president, hockey operations and supervision.
Gregory 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.
Jim Gregory (c.) shows off his Hockey Hall of Fame ring with fellow 2007 inductees (l-r) Ron Francis, Al MacInnis, Mark Messier and Scott Stevens. Photo by Getty
"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 told NHL.com prior to his induction in 2007. "I feel that I'm representing all those people who helped me in so many ways.
"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.
In 2012, the Canadian Hockey League announced that the player of the game awards at the annual CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game would be named in his honor. He received the Order of Hockey in Canada in 2015.
As NHL senior vice president of hockey operations, Jim Gregory welcomed countless young players into the League, including Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Photo by Getty