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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Lost Cards: 1990-91 OPC Borje Salming

  During the 1970s, with the influx of expansion teams and watering down of talent, games in the NHL were often being decided by fists shots, just as much as they were with wrist shots.  The game became far more rough and brawls became more common place.  At the same time, a new group of pioneers were joining the NHL, the Europeans.  They brought along with them a reputation of being highly skilled, but soft, and easily physically intimidated.  In the 1973, Borje Salming was one of three Swedish players to join the NHL. 

  The first Swedish trained player to try the NHL was Ulf Sterner in 1965.  Not used to the physical style of play, Sterner played one season in North America, appearing in 4 NHL games, before retruning to Sweden.  In 1969, the IIHF, hockey's main governing body in Europe, adopted body-checking rules similar to the NHL.  This made the jump from Europe to North America a bit easier.  In 1972,  Thommie Bergman became the second European trained player to play in the NHL, when he signed on with the Detroit Red Wings.  The following season, three players made the jump from Europe, as Salming and Inge Hammarstrom signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tord Lundstrom signed with the Red Wings.  Out of the four Swedish players, it was Borje who made the biggest impact.

  The discovery of Salming was a bit of a fluke.  The Maple Leafs sent scout Gerry McNamara to Sweden to scout Inge Hammarstrom.  Instead he was captivated by Salming.  McNamara was so impressed, he corralled Salming in the team's dressing room and asked him to join the Leafs on the spot.

  Salming notched an assist in his first NHL game, against the Buffalo Sabres on October 10, 1973.  His first goal didn't come until January 23, 1974, against Michel Larocque of the Montreal Canadiens.  Salming finished the season with 5 goals, 34 assists for 39 points.  He finished third in Calder voting for best rookie.  OPC bestowed "The King" with a rookie card in the 1974-75 OPC set, but it was a posed shot, so here's an action upgrade.  

1974-75 OPC Borje Salming (RC)

  Borje quickly became one of the NHL's best defenceman and fan favourite in Toronto.  So enamored were the fans, that Borje was nicknamed "The King".  Over the next six seasons, Salming was a member of the 1st Team All-Star once and five times as a 2nd Team All-Star.  He set career highs with 78 points in 1977-78 and had 19 goals in 1979-80.  More important than any of the statistics, Salming earned the respect of his opponents with his toughness.  Swedish and Europeans were categorized as timid and soft.  In particular, Swedish players were referred to as "Chicken Swedes".  While Salming didn't drop the gloves very often, he played a physical style and refused to be intimidated.  Salming proved that some European players had the determination and toughness to be stars in the NHL.
  OPC/Topps did fairly well with Salming cards, giving him action or on-ice shots for most of his cards.  There was one in particular I felt needed an upgrade, the 1977-78 OPC.  Not only does it suffer from a corny pose, Salming is not even looking at the camera.  

1977-78 OPC Borje Salming

  By the late 1970's, more Western Europeans were coming over.  Eastern Europe was made up of Communist states and the players were not allowed to join the NHL.  In 1979, the NHL had a mid-season three game series, coined the Challenge Cup, with the Soviet Union.  Salming was one of three Swedes, along with 23 Canadians, to play for the NHL All-Stars.  Salming was pointless in three games as the Soviets defeated the NHL All-Stars two games to one.  It would have been cool if OPC had a subset or inserts of the players from the Tournament in the 1979-80 set.  Could you imagine if the set had a Vladislav Tretiak rookie to go along with the Gretzky?

1979 OPC Borje Salming (CC)

  The 1980s were dark days for the Leafs and Salming saw his point totals drop off.  After scoring a career high of 78 in 1977-78, Salming's point total decreased every season for the next 10 seasons.  One part of the issue were injuries.  During the 80's, Salming only played 70+ games twice.  A knee injury in March ended Saliming's 1984-85 season.  The next season he missed over two months due to injury, playing only 41 games.  
  In May of 1986, Salming admitting in an interview that he had tried cocaine "five or six years ago, but not since".  This admission came shortly after Sports Illustrated posted an hockey article of an alleged Edmonton Oilers cocaine problem.  The NHL set their drug rehabilitation program back decades by suspending Salming for the entire 1985-86 season.  By the time the season started, his suspension was reduced to eight games.  
  The 1986-87 season got worse for Salming.  On November 26, 1986, Salming suffered one of the more infamous on-ice injuries.  After being knocked down in the goal crease, Salming had his face stepped on by Gerard Gallant, who was being pushed backwards over Salming.  Salming received 250 stitches in his face.  The "Chicken Swede" returned to play in two weeks with a giant scar running up his face.  Salming looked more like a James Bond villain than a hockey player, white kitty-kat and all.
  Salming played 16 seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs.  His last card as a Maple Leaf was in the 1988-89 set, a warm-up shot.  Not a fitting way to cap Salming's time as a Maple Leaf.

1988-89 OPC Borje Salming

  Salming signed as free agent with the division rival Detroit Red Wings during the 1989 off-season.  Salming was tired of losing and was hoping a chance at a Stanley Cup.  Salming joined the Red Wings in time for OPC to give him the airbrush treatment.

1989-90 OPC Borje Salming

  The switch of teams for Salming saw a switch of fortune for those teams.  The Red Wings went from first place in the Norris to last and out of the play-offs.  While the Maple Leafs, who had missed the play-offs  the previous season, climbed the standing to 3rd in the Norris.  Salming played in 49 games, netting 19 points.  1989-90 was Salming's final season in the NHL.  He returned to Sweden to play three more seasons, including the 1991 Canada Cup and 1992 Olympics.  In 1996, Salming became the first European-trained NHLer to be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

  Salming's retirement from the NHL left him out of the 1990 junk wax boom.  I kept it old school and created a 1990-91 O-Pee-Chee to cap off his career.

1990-91 OPC #533 Borje Salming
1990-91 OPC #533 Borje Salming

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