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Longtime NHL executive Jim Gregory dies at 83

2018 NHL Draft - Rounds 2-7

DALLAS, TX - JUNE 23: Jim Gregory of the NHL handles his final draft during the 2018 NHL Draft at American Airlines Center on June 23, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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Jim Gregory, the Hockey Hall of Famer and popular longtime NHL executive best known for being one of the first to start bringing European players to North America, has died. He was 83.

The league said Gregory died Wednesday at his home in Toronto. A cause of death was not disclosed.

Gregory spent a decade as general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs from the late 1960s until the late 1970s and was one of the first to import European players, most notably Swede Borje Salming. He spent almost 40 years with the NHL as director of central scouting, executive director of hockey operations and senior vice president of hockey operations and supervision.

''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.’'

Known around the sport as ''Mr. Gregory,’' he served as chairman of the Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee from 1998-2014 and was a fixture at the NHL draft and other league events. He’d hand out silver sticks to players for reaching 1,000 games played, present new Hall of Famers with their rings and call names on the second day of the draft.

''I don’t know if there was anyone who wasn’t fond of Jimmy or would say a bad word about Jimmy,’' NHL executive vice president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell said by phone Wednesday. ''Jimmy always put the game first and foremost. He cared so much about the good of the game and he carried that forward with trying to be helpful to everybody.’'

Retired defenseman Aaron Ward on Twitter said of Gregory: ''There’s no better man and no better ambassador that represented the NHL so honorably. He was everywhere, at every event, and he’d immediately make you smile just seeing him. That says enough about the man.’'

Gregory was elected to the Hall of Fame as a builder in 2007. Beyond his years running the Maple Leafs, he was central to the NHL’s use of video to review goals and the expansion of the league’s Central Scouting system.

Campbell lamented the fact that Gregory’s institutional memory is lost forever because so many at the league office looked to him for that.

''When we had issues of how the game got to be what it is, how this rule came to be, who these people were, how important was that person to the game, we always went to Jimmy,’' Campbell said. ''He always had the answer.’'