Zizing 'Em Up Borje Salming main image

NHL.com staff writer Mike Zeisberger has been covering the NHL regularly since 1999. Each Sunday he will use his extensive networks of hockey contacts to write his weekly notes column, “Zizing ‘Em Up.”

TORONTO -- It was at Hall of Fame weekend exactly one year ago that Borje Salming, losing his valiant battle against ALS, made back-to-back pregame appearances at Scotiabank Arena, eliciting well-deserved standing ovations each night.

We soon learned it was his way of saying goodbye to the city and the fans where the defenseman played 16 of his 17 NHL seasons with the Maple Leafs (1973-89) before finishing his career with the Detroit Red Wings (1989-90).

Less than two weeks later, he died in his native Sweden.

Twelve months later, he certainly hasn’t been forgotten. Glenn Healy and the NHL Alumni Association are helping make sure of that.

The organization has created the Borje Salming Courage Award in honor of the Hall of Famer. The first recipient will be fellow Swedish Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom, the seven-time Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defenseman with Detroit.

According to Healy, the president and executive director of the NHLAA, Lidstrom will be presented with the award prior to the opening game of the 2023 NHL Global Series presented by Fastenal in Stockholm between the Red Wings and Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

Asked about the genesis of creating the award, Healy pointed to Salming’s influence not only for Swedish hockey, but to clear the way to make the NHL the global league that it has become.

“There has to be a first guy, right?” Healy said. “The first guy to pioneer. The first guy to trailblaze. The first guy, and I’m not trying to be corny, but the first guy to go where no guy had gone before.

“When you talk to Swedish players, he’s still revered over there. He’s a God-like figure when it comes to the sport there.”

In 1973, then-Maple Leafs general manager Jim Gregory made waves by signing Salming and forward Inge Hammerstrom. On Jan. 4, 1988, he became the first European to play 1,000 NHL games. In 1996, he became the first European player to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, representing a legacy that opened the door for players around the world to aspire to play in the world’s top league.

But it didn't come without it’s aches and pains. Salming was often targeted with cheap shots by opposing teams who questioned the resiliency of the guy from across the Atlantic.

Salming may have bled, but he never flinched.

“When he came here, he was challenged by every team,” Healy said. “They didn’t think he was tough enough. He wasn’t big enough. He wasn’t fast enough. They all challenged him. And he met every one of those challenges. And while doing that, he in some ways paved the way for all of them to come over.”

Healy said there are statistics to back up Salming’s impact on the NHL to this day.

“The numbers that stand out to me is, we’ve had 1,300 Europeans who have played in the NHL," Healy said. "We’ve had 1,200 Americans, and they had a 60-year head start. What’s that tell you?

“You’ve had this European invasion led by one pioneer, one trailblazer with a tremendous amount of courage. And that was Salming.”

To this day, Healy still marvels at the physical hockey specimen that Salming was. Specifically, he remembers the summer skates some of the local NHLers would have in the late 1980s in Scarborough, Ontario, a suburb of Toronto.

“We would have skated for about a month,” said Healy, a goalie with the Los Angeles Kings at the time. “We’d train every day. We’d ride the bike. We’d lift weights. We’d do sprints. We’d do it all. Every guy was an NHL player. It was pretty intense for the entire month of August.

“In would come Salming in the first week of September. Not skated. Not trained. Not anything. He’d step on the ice. First minute, best player. How? Bouncing the puck off his skate. Bouncing the puck off his stick. Pure skill. And that’s against all NHLers.

“The first words out of every guy’s mouth to him were … well, I can’t really repeat them, but they weren’t nice words.

“Incredible talent.”

As such, Healy thinks Lidstrom is the perfect first recipient of the award.

“Look at the Norris Trophies,” he said. “And look at the classy way he conducted himself.”

To that end, Lidstrom is a board member of the Borje Salming ALS Foundation, an organization that supports research to find a cure for the heinous disease.

[Borje] was one of the first to pave the way for us Swedes in the NHL in his way of playing,” Lidstrom said last year.

“He was an amazing person. So caring, so humble, so warm.”

Borje Salming was pioneering European star


The Red Wings, Senators, Maple Leafs and Minnesota Wild will be taking part in the Global Series this week, with each team playing two games in Stockholm. It’s yet another example of how the NHL has impacted Sweden -- and how Sweden has impacted the NHL.

Keeping that in mind, we asked some of the prominent Sweden-born NHL players from today and yesteryear about Salming, along with some of his former Maple Leafs teammates.

-- “I mean, everyone knows about Borje. A lot of us wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him. You didn’t have to have seen him play to understand and know what he did for Swedish hockey, for European hockey, for the game around the world. For that, we should all be grateful.” -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Erik Karlsson

-- “I obviously never had the chance to play against him in the NHL, but I played against him in the Swedish League. Here’s this 41-year-old running around the ice hitting guys, slashing guys, blocking shots, all full of energy, and all I could think of was, ‘Wow. No wonder he’s a legend.’” -- Hall of Fame forward Peter Forsberg

-- “I think he set the tone not only for Swedes, but Europeans the way he played the game. I remember hearing about him as a kid. And when he came back to play for his country, that’s when I got to see him play the first couple of times. I think he inspired guys in Sweden to say, ‘OK, I want to play in the NHL. I can play in the NHL.” -- Hall of Fame Class of 2023 honoree Henrik Lundqvist

-- “I remember being out at the clubs in Stockholm one summer and bumped into him in the streets. He was so friendly, so much fun, no ego whatsoever. Probably all traits that helped him become a legend.” -- Maple Leafs forward William Nylander

-- “He played his heart out all the time. I think he changed the perception of not just Swedish players, but European players. He was a trailblazer for so many of us.” -- Swedish Hall of Famer Daniel Alfredsson

-- “You have to understand, he’s done so much for hockey in Sweden and for the generations who came after him. He paved the way. And in Toronto and for Maple Leafs fans, he was one of the absolute best players here for a long time. When the Maple Leafs approached me to be captain, I reached out to him. He was so supportive. He told me to do it. He told me he’d had the chance to do it in his own career and regretted saying no.” -- Swedish Hall of Famer Mats Sundin

-- “Borje was the epitome of class. We watched teams take runs at him, try to abuse him, and he never backed off. He always came back. It was an honor to be his teammate and friend.” -- Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler, Salming’s longtime Maple Leafs teammate

“They called him ‘The King,’ and he was The King. He made it so much easier for players outside North America to come here and have the opportunity to play in the League. He was the ultimate teammate and warrior. He had courage. And I can’t think of a better recipient for the first Borje Salming Courage Award than Nick Lidstrom.” -- Hall of Famer Lanny McDonald, Salming’s longtime Maple Leafs teammate

NHL, players remember superstar Borje Salming


On Tuesday, there will be a premiere of a six-part docuseries on the life of Salming in Stockholm entitled “Salming.” The event will be preceded by a red carpet featuring the likes of Sundin, Alfredsson, Lidstrom and other prominent Swedish hockey figures.

Much of the filming of the series, which chronicles Salming’s rise from humble beginning to the Hall of Fame, took place in southern Ontario last year.

Prior to his death, Salming had given the green light to the venture after meeting with Warner Bros. and Swedish actor Valter Skarsgård, who portrays him.

One of the producers of the venture is Canadian actor Jason Priestley of “Beverly Hills, 90210,” and “Private Eyes” fame.


Who are the top Swedes in the NHL today? Here are my picks, like ‘em or loathe ‘em:

1. Elias Pettersson, F, Vancouver Canucks: There could be a scoring title in his future, maybe as early as this season.

2. Victor Hedman, D, Tampa Bay Lightning: Even at 32, he looks healthy and hungry. He’s on a Hall of Fame trajectory.

3. William Nylander, F, Maple Leafs: Toronto’s best player this season, even on a roster that sports stars like Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner.

4. Erik Karlsson, D, Penguins: Has a much better cast than he did with the San Jose Sharks last season, when he won the Norris Trophy.

5. Mika Zibanejad, F, New York Rangers: When you talk about underrated players around the League, he fits the bill.

6. Rasmus Dahlin, D, Buffalo Sabres: As skilled as anyone on this list. The key is finding consistency.

7. Linus Ullmark, G, Boston Bruins: He and Jeremy Swayman arguably form the top goalie tandem in the NHL.

8. Filip Forsberg, F, Nashville Predators: Talent isn’t an issue. Staying healthy always seems to be.