Saginaw Spirit GM James Paliafito hired by Toronto Maple Leafs

Saginaw Spirit goalie Evan Cormier (Terry Wilson, OHL Images)
Saginaw Spirit goalie Evan Cormier (Terry Wilson, OHL Images)

At this rate, the Toronto Maple Leafs' hockey operations might soon include general managers from all 20 Ontario Hockey League teams. Whilst new coach Mike Babcock was being introduced on Thursday, Sportsnet reported that Saginaw Spirit GM Jim Paliafito, AKA The Most Interesting Man In Junior Hockey, is joining the Leafs as director of player evaluation. Paliafito, earlier in his professional life, was a player agent in the NFL.

On the Leafs' end the skein of hirings out of the OHL — Mark Hunter from London, Kyle Dubas from Sault Ste. Marie, and potentially Sheldon Keefe — fit into the idea of overhauling the team's player intake and development models. Why not hire people who have been hands-on with junior hockey? It is also of note that the Los Angeles Kings won the 2012 and '14 Stanley Cups while relying significant on players who came of age in the Ontario Hockey League, so it is a matter of adapting to a trend and trying to tweak it.

Paliafito leaves the Spirit in a good place. Saginaw iced the youngest team in the OHL after the Jan. 10 trade deadline. Coach Greg Gilbert shepherded them to a playoff berth even while having 14 players born in 1997 and '98, including two promising yearlings in centre Tye Felhaber and 6-foot-5 defenceman Keaton Middleton. In a league where first-rank goaltending seems to be at a premium, Paliafito also acquired promising Evan Cormier while moving graduating forward Nick Moutrey to the North Bay Battalion.

The departure of Paliafito leaves the Windsor Spitfires' Warren Rychel as the only GM in the West Division who's been on the job for more than one season. The Soo, Sarnia Sting and Flint Firebirds (formerly Plymouth Whalers) have all had a change.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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