This post was originally published in 2010. On the anniversary of Salming’s signing with the Leafs, we’re reposting it as part of our Retro May look back at our work over the years.
He's the answer to a rather odd trivia question: What Leaf, after reaching his career high in points, saw his point total decline for each of the next ten seasons?
The answer, of course, is Salming, who by 1984-85 was playing the role Tim Horton played in the late 1960s - the lone veteran on a defense made up of players just out of junior.
Salming was 33 in 1984-85, starting his 12th NHL season. Playing with him on the blue line were McGill (age 22), Benning and Nylund (21), Iafrate (18), along with occasional appearances by the likes of Root (25), Korn (27) and Stewart (27). That season also saw 10 games from an 18-year-old Todd Gill. As one might expect, the Leafs gave up a LOT of shots. Bester, in particular, faced an average of over 37 shots against per game.
It certainly was a different time than he'd had playing alongside Ian Turnbull.
The Salming story has certainly been told enough times - how the Leafs went to Sweden to scout someone else and suddenly noticed this awesome defenseman; all the abuse he took to prove that Europeans could not only play in the NHL, they could thrive. Whether Salming is the greatest Swedish player is debatable, but he's certainly the most significant.
He was more than a little bit popular, too. During a 1976 Canada Cup game played at MLG between Canada and Sweden, the loudest ovation of all came for Salming, much to the consternation of folks like Don Cherry. (Listen to the clip below, though - Bobby Orr gets a pretty good one, and Leaf fans booed him his entire career.) That ovation was big news in Sweden, too. There's a youtube clip out there that I won't embed since I don't understand it, but they were still talking about this decades later. Even now, Salming is enough of a big deal in Sweden that when the Leafs wanted to encourage Jonas Gustavsson to sign, they had him talk to Borje.
I really never saw much of Salming during his peak years. I saw him more once we got to Ontario in the early '80s. He wasn't rushing the puck to the same extent and his points were coming down. Every so often - I remember the '88 playoffs in particular - he'd bust in off the wing and blow one past the goaltender and the announcers would say, "Now THAT'S vintage Borje Salming." It would have been something special to see.
What I do remember are the odd things that would happen to him - particularly in '86-87. Prior to the season, Salming admitted to having tried cocaine a number of years earlier. He was summarily suspended for the entire season. Eventually, I guess, the NHL realized just what this sort of punishment would do to anyone wanting to, say, come forward with a drug problem, so the punishment was quickly reduced to eight games. It was still a nonsensical suspension.
Once he got back, though, things got worse. In November, Gerard Gallant would step on his face during a scramble in the crease, cutting him for 200 stitches and resulting in the famous pictures of him sewn up from right under his left eyebrow to the top of his lip. He hardly missed any time with it, but did go so far as to don a visor again.
Salming would leave the Leafs after the 1988-89 season. Leafs management must have made the call to let him go, though even at age 37 his plus/minus was best amongst Leaf defensemen and second-best on the entire team. Injuries might have been a factor. He'd only dressed for 70 games once since 1980-81. Still, for 1989-90, he played in Detroit and was quite good in the 49 games he was healthy enough to play.
The HHOF blurb below claims he'd still log upwards of 30 minutes a night during his last season in Toronto. I can't say I remember that particularly, but assuming they're correct, it makes the decision to cut him loose all the more strange. Wings coach Jacques Demers was thrilled to get him, saying "He was their (the Leafs) best defenseman. He's a 38-year-old with a 28-year-old's legs."
The thought that struck me this morning was that had the Leafs instead kept Salming around for that one last season, they'd not only have had his presence on the blue line, they likely wouldn't have found the need to acquire Tom Kurvers from New Jersey, and one can only imagine how history might have been different....
The Salming tribute
|1970-71||Brynas IF Gavle||Sweden||14||0||5||5||6||13||2||1||3||16|
|1971-72||Brynas IF Gavle||Sweden||14||1||1||2||20||14||0||4||4||30|
|1972-73||Brynas IF Gavle||Sweden||14||2||3||5||10||12||3||1||4||24|
|1973-74||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||76||5||34||39||48||+38||4||0||1||1||4|
|1974-75||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||60||12||25||37||34||+4||7||0||4||4||6|
|1975-76||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||78||16||41||57||70||+33||10||3||4||7||9|
|1976-77||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||76||12||66||78||46||+45||9||3||6||9||6|
|1977-78||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||80||16||60||76||70||+30||6||2||2||4||6|
|1978-79||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||78||17||56||73||76||+36||6||0||1||1||8|
|1979-80||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||74||19||52||71||94||+4||3||1||1||2||2|
|1980-81||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||72||5||61||66||154||0||3||0||2||2||4|
|1981-82||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||69||12||44||56||170||+4|
|1982-83||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||69||7||38||45||104||-3||4||1||4||5||10|
|1983-84||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||68||5||38||43||92||-34|
|1984-85||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||73||6||33||39||76||-26|
|1985-86||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||41||7||15||22||48||-7||10||1||6||7||14|
|1986-87||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||56||4||16||20||42||+17||13||0||3||3||14|
|1987-88||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||66||2||24||26||82||+7||6||1||3||4||8|
|1988-89||Toronto Maple Leafs||NHL||63||3||17||20||86||+7|
|1989-90||Detroit Red Wings||NHL||49||2||17||19||52||+20|
First All-Star Team Defense (1977)
Second All-Star Team Defense (1975, 1976, 1978, 1979, 1980)
- Signed as a free agent by Toronto, May 12, 1973.
- Signed as a free agent by Detroit, June 12, 1989.
The HHOF take on Borje:
It could be argued that every European player collecting a salary in the NHL today owes a share to Borje Salming. Way back in 1973, he opened the doors to North American professional hockey for his fellow countrymen. At that time, after the first Summit Series, Canadians and Americans had come to respect the disciples of the Soviet hockey school, but the Scandinavian players were nicknamed "Swedish chickens." The joke was based on Sweden's national colors, but no doubt it had a double meaning. Borje Salming helped eradicate that stereotype. Six years after he retired in North America, the name of the "King" - his nickname in Toronto - was immortalized in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Salming was the first Swede to be so honoured.
Salming ended up in Canada quite by accident. In 1973 the Toronto Maple Leafs were interested in a different Swede, the winger Inge Hammarstrom. Leafs scout Gerry McNamara, who happened to be in Sweden at the time, saw Salming in action and immediately called his boss in Canada to tell him about another Scandinavian genius. Salming was too modest. In his first game with the team, Toronto defeated Buffalo 7-4 and he was voted the best player. At the end of his first season, the Swedish rookie had 39 points - an excellent result for a defenseman.
In 16 seasons with Toronto, Salming made 620 assists (a club record) and scored 148 goals for 768 points. He was included on the First All-Star Team once and fives times on the Second All-Star Team, again a Toronto record. In 1980 he came up a few votes short for the Norris Trophy as the season's best defenseman. In the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs, only two players appeared in more games than Salming - George Armstrong and Tim Horton. The King appeared in 1,099 games. He added two goals and 17 assists to his personal scorecard after a season with the Detroit Red Wings as a free agent. Afterward, the 39-year-old veteran returned home and played for three seasons with AIK of Solna. The owner of a brewery and a garment factory, Salming has since abandoned hockey for business.
Salming is remembered for his slalom rushes across the rink and his powerful wrist shots in the style of Bobby Orr, as well as for his tricky but accurate passes so typical of the European game. Al Arbour, the great coach who in the early 1980s led the New York Islanders four times to the Stanley Cup, once commented on Salming when he was at the peak of his career. He called him a great athlete with an ability to perform excellently on both defense and offense. Yet, for a hockey player capable of gaining points on the offensive, his eagerness to be a human shield and stop a slapshot was quite incredible. And he did it without much hesitation. Arbour saw him for the first time in Moscow in 1973 and was highly impressed with his performance back then. But when his own team went up against Toronto, he lamented all those same qualities that made Salming a great player.
Another of Salming's strengths was his phenomenal stamina. Even at 38, while Salming was playing out his last season in Toronto, he would spend 30 to 40 minutes on the ice per game. In 1986, in a game against the Detroit Red Wings, he was badly injured when his face was cut with a skate. In photos taken at the time, Salming looked like a character out of a horror movie. But three days later he was back on the ice.
If Salming is so loved in Canada, what does he mean to Swedes? Mats Sundin, the Toronto Maple Leafs captain who began his hockey career in Salming's school, says: "Every Swede respects Borje and pays him tribute for what he has done. For us - Swedish hockey players - he is the man who showed us the right way; he is a trailblazer."