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Maple Leafs legend Borje Salming dies at age 71

Maple Leafs icon Borje Salming passed away after a battle with ALS. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Maple Leafs icon Borje Salming passed away after a battle with ALS. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Toronto Maple Leafs legend Borje Salming has died at the age of 71, the team announced on Thursday.

Salming was battling ALS, a neurodegenerative disease that attacks the use of voluntary muscles, and was recently rendered unable to speak. During his tribute during Hall of Fame weekend earlier this month, Salming was accompanied by fellow Maple Leafs legends Mats Sundin and Darryl Sittler, who helped him raise his hands to the Toronto crowd in appreciation.

Salming was one of the preeminent defencemen of his generation, and became the first Swedish player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996. He was an inspiration to several generations of Swedish players, including 2022 Hall of Fame inductees Henrik and Daniel Sedin, as well as Daniel Alfredsson.

He made his debut with the Maple Leafs in 1973-74 and, along with Sittler, operated as the face of the franchise during some of the darkest days in team history. An offensive dynamo who was equally competent in his own end, Salming earned six All-Star selections over his illustrious career. He recorded 148 goals and 768 points with the Maple Leafs and played his final season with the Detroit Red Wings in 1988-89.

"The Toronto Maple Leafs mourn the loss of Börje Salming," the team said in a statement. "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."

Affectionately nicknamed "The King", Salming was included as one of the 100 greatest players in NHL history in 2017, and was named to the IIHF Hall of Fame in 1998.

Salming was one of the best players in Maple Leafs history and it’s an incalculable loss for the franchise. He was both affable and weary with the media, while paving the way for the next generation of European superstars to follow.

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