[Update by Brandon Bibb at 3:04 pm] TSN is now reporting that Zubov has signed with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL.
Here at Defending Big D we try to use present more news and straight up analysis than opinion, but today I felt the need to really share my personal feelings on the issue at hand.
Over the past several months it's become known that the Stars were interested in re-signing Sergei Zubov, but only under the condition that they could verify he was fully healthy and if it was for a minimal, one-year contract (most likely). Jere Lehtinen was in almost the exact same situation as Zubov (although his health isn't as concerning) and he stated several times early in the offseason that he wanted nothing more than to return to Dallas and finish his career with the Stars. Just before free agency began he was signed for a one-year deal worth $1.5 million base salary, a significant drop from his $4 million contract the year before.
Stars fans hoped the same would happen with Zubov. Unfortunately, he has had different plans. I'm sure the Stars informed him early on, and Joe Nieuwendyk reiterated this, that they wanted him back but only under their conditions. This was certainly understandable since the Stars paid him over $10 million to play 56 games the past two seasons. Even though the Stars are operating under a significantly lower budget than they have in the past, a $1-2 million deal for a player with his ability would certainly be something they would be willing to pay. But only if he was fully healthy.
Yet Zubov is convinced (perhaps by his agent) that he can make more than that elsewhere and has prepared himself to move on. He has put his home in Dallas up for sale and it has been "reported" that there are up to nine different NHL teams interested in signing him. However there have been no actual offers put on the table and now comes the news that he has decided to return to Russia to play in the KHL.
All Dallas Stars fans will be sad to see him go. He was a key part of this team for 12 seasons, for the majority of the time they have been in North Texas. He's been as much as staple of this team as Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen. But the thought that he owes the team and the fans to take a "hometown discount" to stay with the Stars, and if he doesn't then his time here is tarnished is frankly absurd.
Sports fans know nothing but loyalty. They stick with their teams through thick and thin, the ups and the downs and spend countless dollars supporting them. It's their money that supports the insane salaries that professional athletes make, but that's just the nature of the business. More incredibly, they expect and desire the same loyalty from the players on the team that they themselves have always shown. When a player moves on via free agency, whether it's for a better chance at a championship or for more money, fans feel disrespected and cheated.
Sergei Zubov spent 12 seasons with the Dallas Stars, an incredible length of time in today's NHL. Yet Stars fans are spoiled a bit, especially with Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen spending their entire career with the team as well. Yet just because he stayed with the team for so long does not autmatically require him to stay here, no matter what.
Some fans feel that because Zubov made so much money the past two seasons while being hurt, he "owes" it to the Stars to take a discounted salary to finish out his career here in Dallas. This is a business, and the Stars chose to sign him to that contract. It is not Zubov's fault that he was hurt, it's just the circumstances of playing in a sport like hockey. For the first 10 season here in Dallas, he never played less than 73 games in a season. He always logged the most ice time on the team. He was the cornerstone for the defense year after year and was consistently regarded as one of the top defensemen in the NHL.
The past two seasons will never change that. The fact that he has decided to move on, to somewhere he believes he can make more money will never change the legacy that he leaves behind in Dallas. Zubov feels he can make more money elsewhere, and perhaps that is in the KHL. Back in Russia, he'll finish his career with a great salary and will be playing in his home country. I could never fault him for making that decision.
For someone that never complained, someone that worked tirelessly to be one of the best players in the league, someone that did so many good things for the Stars, I will never feel he owes me, the fans, nor the team anything.
He's already given enough.