Ruslan Albiertavič Saliej (Belarusian: Руслан Альбертавіч Салей; November 2, 1974 – September 7, 2011), better known as Ruslan Salei (Russian: Руслан Альбертович Салей), was a Belarusian professional ice hockey player. Salei played 14 seasons in the National Hockey League (NHL) for the Detroit Red Wings, Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, who selected him ninth overall in the 1996 NHL Entry Draft.
Salei died on September 7, 2011, when a Yakovlev Yak-42 passenger aircraft, carrying almost the entire Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team of the Kontinental Hockey League, crashed near Yaroslavl on its way to Minsk, Belarus, to start the 2011–12 KHL season.
Salei was selected by the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim ninth overall at the 1996 NHL Entry Draft. In 1992, prior to being selected for the Ducks, Salei played in his native Belarus for Dinamo Minsk in the Russian Elite League. After the 1994–95 season, the Russian Elite League re-aligned, pushing Tivali Minsk to the side. Salei then came to North America, being signed by General Manager Bob Strumm of the Las Vegas Thunder without Sturmm knowing of his capabilities.
During a successful spell with the Thunder, Salei was drafted by the Ducks and soon signed a three-year deal worth $2.25 million. Salei split time between the Ducks, Baltimore Bandits, and the Cincinnati Mighty Ducks of the American Hockey League (AHL) before becoming a full squad member of the Ducks by the end of the 1997–98 season.
In October 1999, Salei was suspended by the NHL for ten games after he checked Dallas Stars center Mike Modano face first into the boards from behind. Modano suffered a slight concussion, strained ligaments in his neck, and a broken nose. Salei played all 21 playoff games in the 2002–03 NHL season, which saw the Ducks go all the way to the Stanley Cup finals, only to lose in seven games to the New Jersey Devils. Salei scored the overtime game-winning goal in Game 3 of that series.
During the 2004–05 NHL lockout, Salei played in the Russian Superleague (RSL) for AK Bars Kazan. He returned to the Ducks upon resumption of the NHL the following season and played with the Ducks until the end of the 2005–06 season, playing 594 regular season games in his career for Anaheim, the franchise record for a defenseman.
On July 2, 2006, Salei signed with the Florida Panthers on a four-year contract, worth $12 million. Salei quickly settled with the Panthers with his most productive season in 2006–07, where he totaled 32 points, scoring six goals and 26 assists in 82 regular season games. He continued his new-found offensive production in 2007–08 and as the Panthers fell out of playoff contention, Salei was traded at the NHL trade deadline to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Kārlis Skrastiņš and a third round draft pick on February 26, 2008.
As a veteran and in his first full season with the Avalanche in 2008–09, Salei finished second among defensemen with 21 points in 70 games. He appeared in his 800th career NHL game against the St. Louis Blues on January 15, 2009 and surpassed 1,000 career penalty minutes against the Minnesota Wild on March 12, 2009. Ruslan suffered a back injury to start the 2009–10 season subsequently missed 56 games. He was able to recover in time to lead Belarus in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, but was relegated as a reserve defender upon his return to the Avalanche, playing in a career low 14 games.
On August 9, 2010, the Detroit Red Wings announced Salei signed as a free agent to a one-year contract with the club worth $750,000, with an additional $350,000 in performance bonuses. According to General Manager Ken Holland, Salei's positive experiences under current Red Wings coach Mike Babcock in Anaheim contributed to his decision. He scored two goals paired with eight assists during that season, as well as a goal during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs in Detroit's first round matchup against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Salei signed a one-year contract with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League on July 5, 2011.
On September 7, 2011, at 4:02 PM local time, the Yakovlev Yak-42 passenger aircraft, carrying nearly the entire hockey team of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl of the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) crashed near Yaroslavl, Russia on its way to Minsk, Belarus, to start the 2011-12 KHL season. Salei was one of the 44 passengers and crew to die in the crash.Belarus player of the year (2003, 2004)
IIHF Hall of Fame inductee (2014)