Börje Salming, legendary Maple Leafs defenseman, dies at 71 following battle with ALS
Former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Börje Salming has died at the age of 71 following a battle with ALS. Salming had been diagnosed with the disease earlier this year.
The Maple Leafs released a statement on Thursday announcing Salming’s passing.
“The Toronto Maple Leafs mourn the loss of Börje Salming,” Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said. “Börje was a pioneer of the game and an icon with an unbreakable spirit and unquestioned toughness. He helped open the door for Europeans in the NHL and defined himself through his play on the ice and through his contributions to the community.
“Börje joined the Maple Leafs 50 years ago and will forever be a part of our hockey family. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Pia, his children Theresa, Anders, Rasmus, Bianca, Lisa and Sara and brother Stieg.”
For Friday’s game against the Minnesota Wild, the Maple Leafs honored Salming with a special patch on their jerseys that read “BÖRJE” in yellow letters across a blue maple leaf with a yellow crown on top. The crown referenced Salming’s nickname “The King” and paid homage to his Swedish roots.
Salming spent 16 of his 17 seasons playing for the Maple Leafs from 1973 until 1989. He spent his final NHL season in 1989-90 with the Detroit Red Wings. During his 17-year career, Salming tallied 787 points (150 goals & 637 assists) in 1,148 career games.
Salming, who was born in Sweden, is the Maple Leafs’ all-time leader in points (760) and assists (620) by a defenseman, and his No. 21 has been retired by the franchise. In January 1988, Salming became the first European-born player to play in 1,000 NHL games and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996.
The Swedish-born blue-liner was diagnosed with ALS in February 2022. The disease affects brain and spinal cord cells as well as losses related to muscle control. Salming had lost the ability to speak in the weeks leading up to his death.
Salming was honored on two occasions earlier this month when he was in town for Hockey Hall of Fame weekend.
The Maple Leafs did get a chance to honor Salming one last time before a game earlier this month against the Vancouver Canucks. A ceremonial puck drop was performed by Swedish-born players Oliver Ekman-Larsson and William Nylander to honor Salming. In addition, Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe constructed a starting lineup that feature all six of the team’s Swedish-born players.
Prior to the annual Hall of Fame game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Maple Leafs, Salming was brought down to the ice by former teammate Darryl Sittler and received a standing ovation. Salming had previously made it clear that he wanted to attend the weekend’s festivities with Swedish-born stars Henrik Sedin (Canucks), Daniel Sedin (Canucks) and Daniel Alfredsson (Ottawa Senators) set to be inducted.