Thursday

Borje Salming

Today's NHL is blessed with skill and talents of many European hockey stars. But that has not only been the case. Until Borje Salming came along, NHL teams were afraid to take a chance on "soft" European players.

Salming enjoyed seventeen years in the NHL as one of the top two-way defenseman, and was the first European trained player to make a significant impact in North America, thus paving the way for today's stars.

After an outstanding junior and domestic career in his native Sweden, the Toronto Maple Leafs took a chance on him after watching him play in exhibition games against Canadian junior teams. Salming showed his immense skill but it was his willingness to play the rough North American style that had convince the Leafs to take the chance. It turned out to be one of the best risks ever taken.

"He Was Tough"

Time and time again Salming was tested by the NHL's toughest players, especially the Philadelphia Flyers gang of Broad Street Bullies. Dave "Hammer" Schultz and Mel Bridgman laid beatings on him after jumping him in a fight, but Salming held his own. Not only did he stand up for himself, but he was able to dish out a few vicious shots himself. He earned the respect of the Flyers, especially their leader, Bobby Clarke.

"He was tough." admitted Clarke. "And he could use his stick too."

Salming had a respectable rookie season, earning 39 points but more importantly establishing himself as a hard nosed player as well. By his second season he was an all star.

Hall of Fame Career

In 1,148 NHL regular season games spread over seventeen seasons, Salming totaled 150 goals and 787 points. He also accumulated 12 goals and 49 points in 81 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He was voted on to the NHL First All-Star Team once and the NHL Second All-Star Team on five occasions. Twice he was runner-up in the voting for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's top defenseman. In 1976, 1977 and 1979 he was the recipient of the Viking Award as the top Swedish player in the NHL/WHA as chosen by a poll of players from his own country. On the international stage he represented Sweden with distinction at the 1976, 1981 and 1991 Canada Cups.

Salming would join the Detroit Red Wings for one season as a free agent in 1989. He left as Toronto's all time leader in points, goals and assists by defensemen, as well as one of the Maple Leafs most popular players of all time. Salming would continue playing in his native Sweden until 1992.

Salming was undoubtedly great. He could do it all, and was perhaps the best shot blocker of his era. While he was able to gain the highest respect on the ice, he didn't quite get it off the ice. Salming was always considered to be just a tad lesser than the top North American defensemen throughout his career - Larry Robinson, Denis Potvin, Rod Langway and later Paul Coffey and Ray Bourque.

6 comments:

xrayspecs21 9:51 PM  

A very nice entry! I agree that popular opinion place Salming as the 3rd best defender of the second half of the 70's, behind Larry Robinson and Denis Potvin. I wonder if the ranking would be different if Salming played for a top team such as Montreal, the NYI, Boston or Philadelphia? Brad Park, Serge Savard, and Guy Lapointe were also top defenders in the era between Orr and Bourque. I think from 80-81 onwards, Borje's stock started to fall. Bourque, Coffey, Langway all came to prominence, while Robinson and Potvin remained in the star category. I think Borje's decline bottomed out around 1984, and Salming's reputation began to recover for the last few years of his career. During these last few seasons, his offensive numbers shrank to 20-25 pts per season, but he developed a reputation as a dependable defensive defenceman. Glen Sather wanted Salming in about 85, but neither Salming nor Ballard were interested in the move. As a Salming fan, I wish he had a chance to play a season or 2 with the Oilers, it would have been so fun to watch!

Anonymous,  7:55 PM  

I recall a series (playoffs?) with the Flyers where Mel Bridgman reduced Salming's face to pulp in what must have been a pretty one-sided pounding. Bridgman wound up being prosecuted in one of the first cases where the courts served notice on the NHL that assault was assault regardless of the circumstances, and would be handled accordingly. As I recall, the next game Salming came back and, with a face full of horrific evidence of the beating, helped the Leafs beat the Flyers. Tough? You betcha.

Joe Pelletier 8:11 PM  

Yeah, it was a playoff series in 1976. It was Salming's first NHL fight, too. Bridgman, Saleski and Joe Watson were all brought up on charges. Ontario attorney general Roy McMurtry used hockey violence to make a name for himself more than once. On top of all that, Salming later that night took an errant Ross Lonsberry shot to the face, causing 8 stitches.

Anonymous,  5:50 PM  

I thought Borje's number with Toronto was 21. Was his number not reitired? I see Van Reisdyk (sp?) wearing his number?!?!

Kt,  6:04 AM  

Borje was a true warrior and battled through alot of adversity, as many north americans wanted to see him fail. I hope the leafs will consider retiring his number some day soon, 16 years as the anchor of their defense should qualify him for a spot in the rafters.

Anonymous,  7:33 PM  

BJ get though, had to stand up to his oldet brother, Stig Salming.

Stig never made it to NHL but I remember the fights during World Championship between Stig and Phil Esposito.

Stig would have been a player like Dave Schultz. Back then there where no "fighting" defensmen from Sweden.

Sorry, my English is not so good, I'm to old.

Peter

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