32 Thoughts: An emotional, deserving tribute to Börje Salming

Watch as the Toronto Maple Leafs present legendary defenceman Borje Salming with a touching tribute video, then Salming drops the puck ahead of a tilt between the Maple Leafs and Vancouver Canucks.

This week’s 32 Thoughts begins with a shoutout to Taylor Dean, Mike Ferriman, Lia Pellegrino, Darryl Sittler and Nitsa Staikos.

It’s impossible to name everyone. Certainly, many others played crucial roles, but those are some of the key individuals in the planning and implementation of the incredible weekend tribute to Borje Salming. 

“Everybody just stepped up to do what ever they could,” said Ferriman, Director of Event Presentation and Director of Alumni Relations.

You know Sittler, the Hall-of-Famer. Dean is the Maple Leafs Director of Game Presentation. Pellegrino is Assistant to President Brendan Shanahan. Staikos is Vice-President of Retention, Membership & VIP Hospitality. 

Salming announced his ALS diagnosis through the Maple Leafs on Aug. 10. A friend of mine said he saw Sittler and Salming at a restaurant in Montreal later in the summer with another one-time Toronto teammate. He said he didn’t recognize the significance of what was happening until this past week. Sittler and the other player were doing the ordering, making sure Salming was comfortable and taken care of. He was emotional in sharing the story.

“In Montreal, I remember Borje saying to me, ‘Darryl, I’m going to be there for the Hall-of-Fame game in November,’” Sittler told Ron MacLean during last Saturday’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast. “He’s here and it’s amazing that he’s here.”

“Borje told us he wanted to come,” Ferriman said Tuesday. “It’s very special to him. He always came to the Hall-of-Fame Game. He always played in the alumni game. We just said, ‘Whatever you need, we’ll do it.’”

“Everything was up to him and his family. We told them, ‘If you want to come for five minutes, do that. If you don’t want to go to any particular event, we understand.’”

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Salming exceeded everyone’s expectations. Friday night, he walked from his hotel to the arena, giving thumbs-up to the several-hundred fans waiting to enter Scotiabank Arena as he arrived. Both Friday and Saturday, he stayed almost the entire game, only leaving a few minutes early to beat the crowd. Monday, he wasn’t up to attending the Hall-of-Fame ceremony, but “watched every second,” Ferriman said, alongside his family in a private dining room set up by the Maple Leafs. 

To Sittler, it was the same toughness Salming showed when becoming the first European player to truly make an impact on the NHL. 

“It wasn’t an easy road for him. Guys were spearing him and trying to intimidate him…but it made him a stronger player. That’s the character of the man he is and that’s why this is all happening.”

There are Toronto fans of a certain age who remember Salming’s brilliant 1976 playoff goal against Philadelphia, days after an unfair beatdown by Mel Bridgman. Two decades later, no less an authority than Bobby Clarke recognized Salming’s toughness in the moment. He was one of the team’s most popular players for 16 years, an almost unprecedented run. 

The fans were wonderful. Either night, if they were allowed to cheer for hours, they would have.

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“To see how a guy (like Borje) was embraced by the fans…that puts a lot of things in perspective to us as players playing here,” Auston Matthews said. “You could just see it and feel it, the atmosphere in the crowd tonight.”

That’s playing in Canada. The risks are high: increased scrutiny. But so are the rewards. Play hard, and the fans will love you forever. Ask Daniel Alfredsson. Ask Roberto Luongo. Ask Daniel and Henrik Sedin. All inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday night. Legends, because they gave everything they had. 

The Leafs of the ’70s — Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Jim McKenny, Tiger Williams — did whatever they could. Salming’s face lit up when the Leafs of the ’80s — Wendel Clark, Tom Fergus, Al Iafrate, Gary Leeman — entered his suite. Mats Sundin, not a teammate but testament to Salming’s legacy, stood alongside him on Friday. The actors filming a television movie about Salming’s story came to say hello. Imagine a 71-year-old Salming meeting his 23-year-old doppelganger. 

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“(Borje’s) wife said to all of us, they’ve never seen him so happy,” Sittler said. “So that makes us happy.”

Everything about the weekend was magic, including Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe starting six Swedes on Saturday night.

“What are the odds we’d have six Swedish players in the lineup that could play all the different positions?” Ferriman said. “Erik Kallgren in goal? Who could have imagined it? It worked out for a reason.”

That reason was Salming, deserving of every tribute he received.


1. In his interview with Ron, Sittler recognized Mark Kirton. Kirton played 266 NHL games for Toronto, Detroit and Vancouver during a decade-long professional career — three of them with Salming’s Leafs. He was diagnosed with ALS in 2018 and has become a tireless advocate. “Mark was awesome, giving the (Salmings) suggestions and tips,” the ex-captain said. Kirton’s twitter handle is @KirtSpeaksALS and pertinent information can be found there. Take a look, he’s incredibly passionate.

2. At Tuesday’s NHL GM meetings, there was a straw poll asking whether or not the assembled wanted to drop the penalty for an unsuccessful coaches’ challenge. The answer was no.

3. Other items from the meetings: there was some conversation about Pavel Buchnevich’s puck-over-glass penalty that gave Colorado a late five-on-three in Monday’s 3-2 Blues victory over the Avalanche. “Not intentional,” one GM said. While that is true, the NHL doesn’t want this to be a discretionary call, and I agree. You never want an official deciding someone’s intent in a Game 7. This will stay as it is.

4. NHL Vice-President of Hockey Operations Rod Pasma made a presentation in the aftermath of Evander Kane’s injury. Mandating Kevlar-like wrist protection seems unlikely, as the NHLPA feels this is an individual decision. Grandfathering it has worked in the past with helmets and visors. At last week’s Karjala Cup, Finland’s Waltteri Merela was sliced open by a skate cut to the wrist. Apparently, at the GM meetings, video was shown of a player being protected from skate-induced leg injury due to thicker protection. Expect this to become a topic of conversation.

As a summer camp counselor, I had to learn how to handle this (a good thing) and, on one occasion, drove someone to the hospital who’d been sliced above the knee. Nurses thought I was a gunshot victim because of all the blood. Several years ago, the Calgary Flames wanted to mandate shot-blockers on the skate, but weren’t allowed to do so. While John Tortorella coached them, the New York Rangers asked their players to wear special shot-blockers on the gloves and most agreed. I like the idea of grandfathering and hope the NHLPA considers it. If you’re a parent of a young boy or girl, consider having them wear a legitimate second skin. It’s not worth the fear.

5. The GMs asked for more information about the net being pushed off its moorings. Anecdotally, it’s happening more often, maybe there should be a penalty. The request is for more data.

6. There was a cap update, similar to the Board of Governors conversation. The hope is it will be more than $1M, closer to the $86M mark. (We are at $82.5M now.)

7. This stood out from Ottawa GM Pierre Dorion: “Jake Sanderson played 25 quality minutes (Monday night). Jacob Bernard-Docker has come up and stepped in. Maybe the solution all the time was internally.”

Dorion’s worked hard to see what’s out there, and I believe he’s come across two challenges. One is that he’s dealing from position of weakness and teams are trying to hijack him. Two is that there are plenty of players who can block a trade to Canada, and it’s possible that’s happened. It’s not an Ottawa issue, but a Canada issue (Personal note: go back to the Salming section. The rewards for competing hard are enormous.)

Dorion’s looked hard at defensive options and will continue to do so, but may choose to go with what he’s got. The Senators’ underlying numbers under DJ Smith aren’t bad. Very reasonable in terms of expected-goals differential. It’s a results-based business, but Dorion didn’t just tell the media he wasn’t going to change coaches. He told the leadership group, too.

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8. Ottawa’s sale machinations are expected to ramp up after American Thanksgiving. There is hope the new owner will be decided by early January so they can negotiate a new building with the government.

9. Calgary is looking for a scoring forward, although that’s been going on since August. 

10. Former Harris-Blitzer CEO Scott O’Neil accepted a job as CEO of Merlin Entertainments on Monday. (Harris-Blitzer owns the New Jersey Devils.) Merlin is the world’s second-largest theme-park operator after Disney. According to multiple sources, O’Neil interviewed for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s vacant CEO opening. (He did not respond to requests for comment.) Filling the MLSE job, vacated last January by Michael Friisdahl, has proven to be…complicated.

11. Last Friday was one of my favourite days of the year: the Hockey Hall of Fame ring ceremony. Bernice Carnegie, Herb’s daughter, said Herb’s ring was made to fit his grandson, Corey Chambers. Her speech was dynamite, an upper-deck grand slam. Brother Dale also stepped up to the podium, possibly the first time two people spoke on behalf of a Hall-of-Famer. Corey and Rane Carnegie (another grandchild, he represented the family at Friday’s introductions) have sons who are players. No pressure on them, none at all, but how terrific would it be if either made it to the NHL — a path their great-grandfather was unfairly denied?

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