The Toronto Maple Leafs’ legend Borje Salming died today at age 71.
Earlier today, the Maple Leafs announced that their legendary Swedish defenseman and NHL Hockey Hall of Famer Salming has died. Salming was one of the first Swedish players ever to play in the NHL and he made a huge impact as a pathfinder for other Swedish (and other European) players.
In 1973 Salming signed with the Maple Leafs as a free agent. By the time his career was finished, he had suited up with the Blue and White over the course of 16 NHL seasons. [He played a single season with the Detroit Red Wings.]
Salming Was a Great Maple Leafs Player
Salming was one of the greatest Maple Leafs’ players of all time. He was a First Team NHL All-Star and five-time Second Team All-Star. He played a total of 1,148 NHL games with both Toronto and Detroit. And, he scored 150 goals and added 637 assists (for 787 points).
Salming now ranks third all-time in Maple Leafs’ games played with 1,099. He remains the team’s all-time leader in assists with 620 and he ranks fourth in career points behind Mats Sundin, Darryl Sittler, and Dave Keon.
In 1996, Salming was the first Swedish player ever inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was also chosen as one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players in history for the league’s centennial in 2017. His number “21” now can be seen by all Maple Leafs fans (it was lifted to the rafters in 2006). No one else will ever wear it again after it was officially retired in 2016.
The Timing of Salming’s Tribute Was (Sadly) Perfect
Just less than two weeks ago on November 11, Salming travelled to Scotiabank Arena for a tribute during Hall of Fame weekend. The team lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins that night 4-2, but the game came in second to the human spirit and love witnessed by Salming’s former teammates and current Maple Leafs’ players who gathered to celebrate his life and career.
At his introduction, he was honoured by three other Swedish players (Daniel Alfredsson, Daniel Sedin, and Henrik Sedin) who were also being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Salming was steadied by former Toronto stars Darryl Sittler and Mats Sundin. Sittler, who was unable to stop crying, raised Salming’s arm to wave to the crowd.
The ovation Salming received was both long and extremely emotional. Early in August, it had been announced that Salming suffered from ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), which is also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was loved by Maple Leafs’ fans.
William Nylander Lauded Salming’s Career and Legacy
William Nylander was also visibly emotional. Later he said, ”He was the first (Swede) to make his way over and lead the way with his toughness and being a leader.”
Nylander rightly added that Salming “represents a lot of Swedes, and he’s done a tremendous job. It’s just so sad seeing him go through what he’s going through.”