Borje Salming, the Toronto Maple Leafs Hall of Fame defenseman who became Sweden’s first NHL star and a trailblazer for the many European players who changed the face of the league, died Thursday in Nacka, Sweden . He was 71 years old.
The Leafs said the cause was amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, said in a statement that Salming “paved the way for many of the greatest players in NHL history while shattering all the stereotypes about European players that were prevalent in a league populated almost entirely by North Americans before. his arrival in 1973.
Playing with the Leafs for 16 seasons and the Detroit Red Wings in his final season, Salming was named an NHL First Team All-Star in 1976-77 and a Second Team All-Star five times. He was a two-time Norris Trophy finalist, awarded to the league’s top defenseman, each time finishing behind Larry Robinson of the Montreal Canadiens. In 1996, he became the first Swedish player inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
“When they called me, I was crying,” Salming recalled in a 2017 video for “100 Greatest NHL Players Presented by Molson Canadian.” “We showed Canadians that we could play hockey.
Playing in 1,099 regular season games for Toronto, Salming set a franchise record for most assists (620) while recording the most goals (148), points (768) and playoff points (49) by a defenseman in Leafs history. But his teams never reached the Stanley Cup final.
Salming, who was also an outstanding shot blocker, was named one of the NHL’s 100 Greatest Players in 2017 when the league celebrated its centennial.
Anders Borje Salming was born on April 17, 1951 in Kiruna, northern Sweden, the son of Erland and Karin Salming. His father died in a mining accident when he was 5 years old.
The Maple Leafs signed Salming in May 1973 after a scout scouted him and believed he could thrive in the North American style of hockey, which featured hard-hitting play in contrast to the Europeans’ emphasis on finesse.
“Opponents abused him, his body was covered in marks, but he just said, ‘I’m fine, I’m fine,'” Lanny McDonald, president of the Hockey Hall of Fame and inductee as a player during his years. with the Leafs, told NHLcom after Salming’s death.
“You had a lot of low blows, but that was just part of the game,” Salming said in Molson’s video.
Despite all the talk of European hockey players of his day, Salming was anything but. In November 1986, his unprotected face absorbed a skate blade from Detroit’s Gerard Gallant, now the Rangers coach, when Gallant was knocked down by a prone Toronto defender during a scramble at net. of the Leafs. It took about 250 stitches to close the wound. Two weeks later, wearing a visor, Salming returned to action.
Salming played for Sweden in four International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships, three Canada Cups and the 1992 Winter Olympics. He was inducted into the federation’s Hall of Fame in 1998 and named in his Centennial All-Star Team in 2008. He recognized the six most remarkable players in international ice hockey history.
Salming flew with his family to Toronto from Sweden in early November for further medical treatment and also attended Hall of Fame inductions held there. The Salmings visited the Leafs’ Scotiabank Arena when Toronto played the Vancouver Canucks on November 12. The Leafs showed a tribute video to Salming, and although ALS had severely weakened him, he dropped the puck for a ceremonial face-off. The Leafs launched an all-Swedish roster that night to honor him.
Salming’s retired No. 21 jersey hangs from the rafters at Scotiabank Arena.
Salming’s survivors include his wife, Pia; their children Theresa, Anders, Rasmus, Bianca, Lisa and Sara; and a brother, Stig.
When the Leafs faced the Minnesota Wild in a road game on Friday, their players wore patches honoring Salming. They featured “BORJE” in yellow letters on a blue maple leaf with a yellow crown, reflecting the colors of the Swedish flag. This crown recalled Salming’s nickname: The King.