Dallas Stars fans have kept their fingers crossed all summer that Sergei Zubov would re-sign with the team, for a significantly discounted contract than what he had last season ($5.3 million). When Jere Lehtinen signed a one-year deal worth $1.5 millions hopes were raised that this would lead to Zubov following suit as well. Yet as each day rolls on it's becoming increasingly apparent that the chances of the one of the greatest players to ever wear a Dallas Stars jersey may not finish his storied career among the fans that have cherished him for so long.
The Stars are open and willing to having Zubov return next season but only after they are content that he will be healthy. Mike Heika suggests that Dallas would want to want another month or so, a few weeks before camp starts, to see where he stands in his recovery from hip and hernia surgery before making a financial commitment. Last season the Stars were convinced he was ready to return from surgery last summer after playing in 46 games in 2007-08. Zubov appeared in just ten games for the Stars and had to have yet another surgery in January, one that ended his season prematurely and put his future with the team in doubt.
While the Stars wait for news on his full recovery, Zubov and his agent have started to test the free agent waters. Joe Nieuwendyk has said that he expects the Stars to be given an opportunity to match any offer made for the defensemen, yet chances are that there are teams out there more than willing to pay Zubov substantially more than Dallas can afford. There have been rumors circulating that the New York Rangers lead a pack of six teams that are interested, and this is where Zubov would most likely go if he departs Dallas. Financially he and his agent would prefer to sign a new contract sooner than later, when the prices are still high for sought after free agents, a factor that will work against Dallas and their desire to have him return.
In the meantime, Nieuwendyk and the Stars have prepared to move on without Zubov. They signed veteran defenseman Karlis Skrastins and added depth with the addition of Jeff Woywitka. While the Stars would love to have an offensively gifted, puck moving defenseman already on the roster, Ivan Vishnevskiy is waiting in the AHL for his chance to step up and help fill the enormous void left by a departed Zubov. Yet no matter who the Stars sign, trade for or call up, no player will ever have the impact he had upon this franchise.
For me, and I expect that I speak for Dallas Stars fans when I say this, Sergei Zubov is irreplaceable. He's one of a kind, a special player of the highest caliber. Watching him on the ice when he was at his best was like watching magic come to life. His legendary vision, skating ability and his touch-perfect passes have been a staple of the Dallas Stars for 12 incredible seasons. Trying to replace such a player, ever, is a near-impossible task. He is one of a kind and there will never be another like him.
Most will think of Zubov as the long-time "quarterback" of the Dallas Stars, a defenseman who had the ability to create sensational plays in all facets of the game. At times it seemed he had a telepathic link with each of teammates, where he instinctively knew where they would go and where their stick would be. He could make any pass from anywhere on the ice and 99.9% of the time it was perfectly placed, yet he was so much more than a offensive specialist. He was a workhorse on the blue line, night after night logging more minutes that any other player on the ice. He seemed to be tireless, always playing with the same energy in the third overtime that he had in the first period. He is a rock in his own zone, a defensemen who is rarely out of position and who always made the right play at the perfect time.
He was a flashy, magical player on the ice but you would never have known it by his demeanor and attitude. His quiet intensity and legendary work ethic should be an example for any player hoping to become successful in the NHL. Despite having players like Brenden Morrow, Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen, Derian Hatcher and Marty Turco on the team, Zubov was the unspoken true leader of the Dallas Stars. He was the unwavering wall on the blue line year after year, never playing less than 73 games in a season for the Stars until 2007.
For Dallas Stars fans, seeing Sergei Zubov play in another team's colors will be painful. Thinking of a Dallas Stars team that doesn't have him on the bench is a sobering and depressing scenario to have to face. Just like with all great players, their time eventually ends and the team and the fans must find a way to move on.
I don't fault Zubov if he signs elsewhere. No matter what team he may play the final year of his career for, he will always be a Dallas Star in the hearts of each and every fan. He was part of something special in Dallas for so long and we will cherish those memories as we move forward.
We'll miss you #56.