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.