Salmelainen started his ice hockey career as a junior player in the Blues organisation, and moved to HIFK for his SM-liiga debut in the 1999-2000 season. In an eventful debut, Salmelainen scored his first goal in his very first shift, and was injured later in the game. He played 19 games for HIFK next season, and transferred to Ilves to get more ice time.
When the NHL resumed play in 2005, Salmelainen returned to HIFK. He played an excellent season, including setting a personal record by scoring a five-goal, six-point night against the Pelicans in a home game on October 10, and culminating in being chosen best player of the regular season after leading the league in points and goals.
Salmelainen also made headlines during the 2005–06 season when he was sent off during a game against HPK, and threw a trashcan down the corridor to the dressing rooms in anger. After narrowly missing goaltender Jan Lundell, the trashcan accidentally hit his team's bus driver, who was injured in the face. Salmelainen was interrogated by the police and received a two-game suspension.
Salmelainen's NHL player rights were traded from the Edmonton Oilers to the Chicago Blackhawks for defensman Jaroslav Spacek on January 26th, 2006. In the summer of 2006, he signed a new contract with the Blackhawks. On June 16, 2007, he was traded, with Jassen Cullimore, to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange of Sergei Samsonov.
On Tuesday October 23rd, 2007, Tony Salmelainen was suspended by the Toronto Maple Leafs for failing to comply with the terms of his contract. It was reported that he had signed to play for Yaroslavl Lokomotiv of the Russian Super League for almost $1.5-million (U.S.).
Father Tommi Salmelainen was the first European ever to be drafted by NHL team.
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