Toronto Maple Leafs great Börje Salming announced Wednesday he has been diagnosed with ALS.

Salming, who played with the Maple Leafs for 16 seasons from 1973 to 1989, released the following statement through the team:

"I have received news that has shaken my family and me.

"The signs that indicated that something was wrong in my body turned out to be the disease ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig´s disease. In an instant, everything changed. I do not know how the days ahead will be, but I understand that there will be challenges greater than anything I have ever faced. I also recognize that there is no cure but there are numerous worldwide trials going on and there will be a cure one day. In the meantime, there are treatments available to slow the progression and my family and I will remain positive.

"Since I started playing ice hockey as a little kid in Kiruna, and throughout my career, I have given it my all. And I will continue to do so.  Right now, I rest assured that I have my loving family around me and the best possible medical care. 

"I understand that there are many of you that would like to reach out, however I kindly ask you to respect our privacy in these trying times. Please keep us in your prayers. When the time is right and I understand more about my condition and future journey, I will reach out. So, until such a time, we kindly refrain from all contact.

"I hope you understand and respect our decision."

Salming, 71, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996. One of the first European-trained players to make an impact in the NHL, he is credited with helping pave the way for many future European stars. The defenceman appeared in 1,148 career games with the Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings, posting 150 goals and 787 points.

A native of Kiruna, Sweden, Salming sits third all-time in games played in Maple Leafs history with 1,099 career appearances for the team. He is also the team's all-time assist leader with 620 and sits fourth in career points for the franchise, behind only Mats Sundin, Darryl Sittler and Dave Keon.