Skip to main content

Borje Salming: Hockey's Most Important Player

This is Borje Salming, the Toronto Maple Leafs Hall of Fame defenseman. He may not have been the greatest player of all time, but his legacy argues he may have been the most important.

While a handful of Europeans preceded him, Borje Salming was the National Hockey League’s first great European player. He excelled at his game while never backing down from the rough and tumble play of the 1970s National Hockey League. By doing so he quickly diminished stereotypes and blazed the trail for more Swedes and all Europeans to come the NHL. The impact was far reaching, and still being explored today.

The influence of the European skill game took hockey from the dark era of 1970s goon hockey to a more skilled game that has evolved into what we have today. The league that was once ruled by hard working, small town Canadian boys was greatly enhanced by influx of European players and their different schools of the sport. The acceptance of the European player, thanks in large part to Salming's play, has also greatly enhanced hockey’s global status, spurring on generations of new players and fans worldwide. Fans and future stars on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean worshiped the likes of Pavel Bure, Jari Kurri, Peter Forsberg, Niklas Lidstrom and Alexander Ovechkin.

Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun recently revisited Salming's impact.

Leafs scout Gerry McNamara was sent to Sweden during Christmas of ’72, ostensibly to bring back slick winger Hammarstrom from a tournament that included the great Barrie Flyers senior team. But he widened the scope when he saw Salming trade jabs and hacks with the belligerent Flyers. The lanky defenceman showed off an effective checking game, blocked shots and covered so much ice on breakouts. Just as noteworthy to McNamara was Salming in the thick of the scrums.

“I trusted Gerry opinion very much and put Salming on our team list that moment,” said (Jim) Gregory, now an NHL executive. “In addition to Gerry’s reports, I sent (head scout) Bob Davidson over there and he verified it (watching Salming in the ’73 world championships in Moscow). I already heard some good reports about Salming from Father David Bauer (coach of Canada’s national team).

“At that time, the North American market for players had been picked over. Russians and Czechs were off-limits, so teams had begun looking elsewhere (Thommie Bergman, a defenceman older than Salming, had made a low-key debut with Detroit the year before). We knew the Rangers were looking at Swedes and Finns, too. So I got the go-ahead from Stafford Smythe to sign Borje and Inge.”

Hockey had already allowed Salming to escape the dreary life of a mine worker in Kiruna, in the farthest northern reach of Lappland. His grandfather had herded reindeer, his father was a miner until a work accident took his life when Borje was five. Salming’s mother urged him to seek another profession — above ground — and his athletic prowess was the ticket to club hockey and the national team.

Hornby provides a great bio on Salming before diving back into his long term impact on the NHL game:

“Every Swede who draws a big NHL paycheque today should send a portion to Salming,” analyst Harry Neale is fond of saying.

“I wish I’d signed a contract based on that,” chuckled Salming when Neale’s quip was relayed. “It’s nice they say that about me. But I was just happy to be someone from Northern Sweden, who was good enough to come over and play. My life changed, but I’m happy with the rewards it gave me.”

In the 1976 Canada Cup, the ovation Salming received in a game against Russia nearly blew the lid off 60 Carlton St. Watching from a Stockholm suburb, phone repairman Tommy Sundin called his five-year-old son Mats to the TV to see a Swedish player get a standing ovation in another country.

Fantastic stuff from Lance Hornby. Here's the full article, including Salming's relationship with Harold Ballard, and a brief bio of countryman Inge Hammarstrom.


kevin said…
Next to Denis Potvin and Guy Lapointe, the most underated dman of all time.

Popular posts from this blog

100 Greatest Hockey Players Of All Time

What follows is a listing of the 100 greatest hockey players of all time, in my opinion. As discussed earlier, the definition of greatness is a very personalized endeavor and there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.
While there is no way of ever truly ranking the top 100 definitively, it is important for the creators of such lists to be open and transparent of how the came to their conclusions. That accountability allows the reader to better understand the process. 

Although admittedly I'm using a completely unscientific formula, I weigh career achievements (era statistics, awards, championships) and legacy (impact on and off ice, peak dominance) equally high. I rank player ability as the third most important ingredient, as first and foremost as a tie breaker. Hence, I'm not necessarily looking for the better player, as in text book definitions of what a hockey player should be, but for players with the greatest careers and greatest legacies. Therefore the best player is not n…

Top Ten Junior Players Of All Time

Let's take a look at the Top Ten junior players of all time. For the purposes of this list we will at players in the WHL, OHL and QMJHL only.

10. Pat Lafontaine, Verdun, QMJHL Rookie-record 104 goals, 234 points in 1982-83; major junior player of the year.

9. Denis Potvin, Ottawa, OHL 254 games, 95 goals, 234 assists, 329 points. Broke Bobby Orr's junior records.

8. John Tavares, Oshawa, OHL 215 goals, 433 points in 247 games; most goals in OHL history; eligibility rules changed to admit him at 15; 2006 major junior rookie of the year, 2007 major junior player of the year; two world juniors, named 2009 all-star, top forward and MVP.

7. Sidney Crosby, Rimouski, QMJHL 120 goals, 303 points in 121 games; two-time major junior player of the year; silver and gold with Canada at two world juniors.

6. Eric Lindros, Oshawa, OHL 97 goals, 216 points in 95 games; one Memorial Cup victory; three world junior tournaments; major junior player of the year in 1991.

5. Mike Bossy, Laval, Q…

Greatest Hockey Legends: M