One of the slickest players, let alone defensemen ever to play the game, is set to officially retire.
Sergei Zubov broke into the league back in 1992 with the New York Rangers and had an immediate impact, recording 31 points in his 49 games after being called up from Birmingham. His second season though would be his real breakthrough. His 89 points in his first full season led the Rangers in scoring and had him just two shy of Ray Bourque as the top scoring defenseman. He was huge for New York in the playoffs that year as well finishing fourth in team scoring with 19 points in 22 games, all while helping the Rangers end a 40 year Stanley Cup drought.
On August 31st, 1995, he was traded to the Penguins along with Petr Nedved for Luc Robitaille and Ulf Samuelsson. His stint in Pittsburgh was short but sweet as he piled up 66 points in just 64 games.
Then on draft day 1996, Bob Gainey landed a one of the most vital pieces to the soon to be surging Dallas Stars, dealing hulking defenseman Kevin Hatcher to Pittsburgh in exchange for Zubov. The deal would turn out to be possibly the best trade the franchise would ever make.
Zubov made an immediate impact with his steady all-round game, his heads up play making skills, and his ability to skate the length of the ice better than most defensemen who have ever played the game. Thanks to Zubov and a couple other acquisitions that summer, the Stars went from just 66 points, last in the division and missing the playoffs the previous season, to 104 points, first in the division and second place overall. A 38 point imrovement, the 5th largest in NHL history.
The Stars quickly became the big kid on the block in the NHL winning the Presidents Trophy in 1998 and 1999. They would lose to the eventual Champs Detroit Red Wings in the conference final in 1998, but in 1999 Zubov and the Stars would capture the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. Zubov’s second championship of course.
While Derian Hatcher was the physically punishing shutdown leader of the Stars, Sergei Zubov was the quiet, dynamic 2-way threat. He could play the physical game, but much like Nik Lidstrom in Detroit, he was a master at angling a player off, then stripping the puck and heading it back up the other way. Starting with the puck in his own zone, he could fake even the best fore checkers with just the slightest twitch, forcing them to go one way while he ever so smoothly skated through the neutral zone with his head up, looking straight forward though his eyes saw the entire ice, picking up on about ten times as many possible plays as most players could even dream of given all day to do so. And he could make it happen 99.9% of the time. He had a lethal shot from the point and you could pile everybody from the other team on the ice in front of him, he would still find the net.
He totalled 152 goals and 771 points in his 1068 career games over his 18 seasons. Had he not played for such a defense-first team for most of his career his totals would likely be higher and that would garner him more fanfare, but Zubov would be the last one to complain. He quietly went about his business and was as steady and as consistent as they came. His lack of fanfare likely ended up costing him his name on the Norris Trophy, but again, Zubov would be the last to complain. While the likes of Nik Lidstrom, Scott Niedermayer, and Chris Pronger received all the accolades and attention, Zubov was easily as effective and every bit as good. Always underrated, he helped his team win and that was good enough for him.
The 40 year old Zubov will retire as the franchise’s all time leader in points by a defenseman with 549 of his career points coming as a Star.Injuries plagued him over his last two seasons, allowing him to play a total of just 56 games. And number 56 is sorely missed in Dallas. He spent the last two seasons with SKA St.Petersburg in the KHL, unable to play at all this last season due to a bad hip.
As quietly as he spent his career, he’ll officially walk away from the game as a player. He’s one of the best defensemen to ever play the game and the Hall of Fame awaits.
* Little known fact: when Guy Lafleur signed with Quebec as a free agent in 1989, the Rangers received a 5th round draft choice in 1990 as compensation. That draft pick turned out to be Sergei Zubov. Pretty good compensation I would say.
About the Author
Written by Travis Currie
Im your typical sports fan. Just a little more crazy about it. I live and die for my teams and I drive my girlfriend nuts. I consider myself the world's biggest Stars fan. Ive been a fan since I was a young kid going back to the mid 80's. Favourite Stars player of all-time is of course Mike Modano. Favourite non-Stars player of all-time is Peter Stastny. I love talking sports so please leave a reply to anything you agree or disagree with. If youd like to contact me my email is firstname.lastname@example.org