Trailblazer Borje Salming, who finished NHL career with Red Wings, dies at 71

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Borje Salming, a trailblazing Swedish defenseman who starred for the Toronto Maple Leafs and finished his Hall-of-Fame career with the Detroit Red Wings in 1990, has died at age 71.

Salming, who revealed in August that he had Lou Gehrig’s disease, played 16 seasons with the Maple Leafs from 1973 to 1989. He appeared in 49 games with the Red Wings in 1989-90, his final NHL season.

“Borje was a pioneer of the game and an icon with an unbreakable spirit and unquestioned toughness,” Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said in a statement. “(Salming) defined himself through his play on the ice and through his contributions to the community.”

The native of Kiruna, Sweden, played 1,148 NHL games, picked up 150 goals and 637 assists. He was twice the runner-up for the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman, a first-team All-Star once and a second-team All-Star on five occasions.

He signed with the Red Wings as a free agent in 1989 and collected two goals and 17 assists, along with a plus-20 rating, on a team that finished with the third-worst record in the league.

“The Detroit Red Wings join the hockey world in mourning the great Borje Salming,” the Red Wings said in a statement. “Our deepest condolences to the Salming family and friends.”

Salming played three seasons in the Swedish Hockey League before retiring in 1993.

He became the first Swedish player inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996.

Salming made a final appearance at center ice at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto earlier this month before a Leafs game with his family and former teammates by his side, unable to speak and with limited mobility. He received a standing ovation while the Leafs played a video highlighting his career.

“A superior all-around defenseman and the first Swedish star ever to play in the league, Borje Salming was as physically and mentally tough as he was skillfully gifted,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “He blazed the trail that many of the greatest players in NHL history followed while shattering all of the stereotypes about European players that had been prevalent in a League populated almost entirely by North Americans before his arrival in 1973.”

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