#56 / Defenseman / Dallas Stars
Jul 22, 1970
Via trade from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for Kevin Hatcher on June 22, 1996.
Unrestricted Free Agent
Sergei Zubov is the highest-scoring Russian-born defenseman in NHL history, and is the only blue-liner in the league to collect 30-or-more assists in each of the last 12 seasons. Zubov ranks 16th in NHL history in assists by a defenseman (619), and 17th among all-time blueliners in points (771), and is third among active NHL defensemen in both assists and points (behind Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom).
Zubov ranks third in Stars franchise history in games played (839) and assists (438), and is just five points shy of tying Bobby Smith for fifth on the franchise's all-time scoring list (111-438-549).
It's been a disappointing two years for Sergei Zubov.
Since coming to the Stars from Pittsburgh nearly 13 years ago, he has been a staple on the Dallas blue line. Entrenching himself as one of the greatest players in franchise history, year after year he provided all-world defense along with an uncanny ability to create plays in the offensive zone. Known as the team's "quarterback" on the power play and the top defender on the penalty kill, Zubov consistently logged the most ice time on the team year after year. When he isn't on the ice, his absence is sorely missed and it becomes painfully obvious just how much he means to this team. Therein lies the issue.
More after the jump.
After not playing anything less than 73 games a season from 1996 to 2007, Zubov has played just 56 games the past two seasons. His absence has hurt the Stars not only on the ice, but in their pocketbooks as well, as he has made over $5 million each of the past two years.
Zubov was sidelined with a sports hernia a little past the midway point of the 2007-08 season, and struggled to to get back on the ice inside the timeline the team originally put forth for his return. The Stars had several young defensemen step up in his absence, playing over their heads for the final half of the season as the Stars marched towards a playof berth. He finally returned for the second round series against the San Jose Sharks, and ended up playing eleven games in the playoffs.
Last summer, it was hopeful that Zubov would be completely healthy once more for the 2008-09 season yet he suffered a hip injury during training camp that required arthroscopic surgery late in September. With the team stating a return to the ice would be likely in four weeks, Zubov did not play his first game of the season until November 7. After playing in ten games, in which he had no goals, four assists and a -4 rating, Zubov was put on injured reserve yet again after problems with his hip resurfaced.
The Stars were intensely secretive with any updates on Zubov's health and when he might return, until it was announced in December that he would have another surgery on his hip that would sideline him indefinitely. Zubov underwent the surgery in Colorado in January, and not much has been heard on his condition since.
Zubov's positive presence on the blue line was never more evident than this past season, when the Stars were ranked 27th in the NHL in power play percentage at 15.4%. That's down from 18.1% in 07-08 and 18.5% in 06-07. Zubov has always been the key part of the Stars power play and the lack his booming shot and extraodinary vision from the point made for a very stagnant man-advantage unit.
So what should the Stars do with Zubov, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st? While it's not a certainty, if he is healthy Zubov has the ability to return as the Stars' top defenseman. But it's his health that has now become the deciding factor. Despite being an iron-man for most of his career, it's now unclear whether Zubov can stay on the ice once he finally returns.
Yet his veteran presence and offensive ability is something the Stars were desperately needing last season, and the team would benifit greatly if he comes back. The only way the Stars sign him however, is if he is willing to take a sigificant pay cut for most likely a one year contract filled with performance based incentives. The Stars want him back, need him back but not for the price they paid the past two years for barely half a season's worth of games.
This will all come down to how much Zubov wants to stay with the Stars, if he wants to return to the NHL at all. If he is looking for another big contract, the Stars will pass and there is no doubt another team willing to take the risk on a player of his cailber. Yet with the Stars looking to cut their budget down and with several other free agents needing contracts, there is no way this team re-signs him for anything more than $1-$2 million for one season.