February 05, 2014

Who's Better? Mats Sundin vs. Borje Salming

2006 Olympic gold medallist. The first European drafted first overall. The first Swede to score 1000 points. 1346 games: 564 goals and 1349 points. First ballot Hockey Hall of Famer.

That is an impressive resume. But is it impressive enough to crown Mats Sundin as the greatest Toronto Maple Leafs player ever?

That is a pretty lofty title in itself. I don't know if I would rank Sundin, the Leafs all time leading scorer, over Syl Apps, Teeder Kennedy, Frank Mahovlich or Dave Keon. Regardless, he is very much in the conversation

However there is one legendary Maple Leaf who is not necessarily in the discussion about greatest Toronto players, yet, in my opinion, he outranks Sundin (and all the others) in the debate of the greatest hockey players of all time.

That player is Borje Salming, who is seen welcoming a young (and haired) Mats Sundin to Toronto in the photo above.

Salming arrived in Toronto some 40 years ago as one of the first European players ever. He played with a combination of grace and excellence combined with bravery and fortitude that instantly shook the theory that Europeans could not survive in the National Hockey League.

In doing so Borje Salming's legacy ranks him high amongst hockey's all time greatest players. He is perhaps the most important hockey player of all time.

Salming paved the way for Sundin and virtually all European players who followed his lead. He was an example of excellence for all young European hockey players - players who could now dream of playing in the NHL themselves.

Lance Hornby of the Toronto Sun tells the story of Borje Salming's standing ovation by Canadian fans at the 1976 Canada Cup:

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.

That is an impressive legacy.

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