Why The HHoF Got It Wrong (Again)

Sergei Zubov, the premier Russian defenseman of the 1990s and early 2000s, has been passed over by the HHOF (again). It’s an embarrassment to the Hall and to the NHL as a whole.

The Hockey Hall of Fame is the shrine, the temple of hockey that houses the legends of the game and tells their greatest stories. It truly is an incredible place, where one can walk down the halls and transport themselves back through the decades, to the days Maurice Richard, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, and Wayne Gretzky. It is the most selective fraternity in hockey, and for good reason.

Fans of the Dallas Stars are a fortunate bunch, with four of their most influential players having their stories in the hallowed halls of the HHOF. With one glaring exception: Sergei Zubov.

To the National Hockey League, the HHOF selection committee, and the hockey “experts,” who continue to snub Zubov, let me just say: “Shame on all of you.”

For Stars fans, Zubov will always be the standard by which we grade our defensemen (just ask John Klingberg). Zubov was and still is the gold standard, and one can argue that the franchise hasn’t been the same since he left in 2009. He was a slick puck moving defenseman, with vision that was unmatched, and a threat on the power-play whenever he was on the ice. While Zubov is mostly remembered for his offensive capabilities, he could also defend with the best of them. A major reason why he averaged over 25 minutes of ice time up until the day he retired.

He was a workhorse, he was the backbone. Apologies to Mike Modano and Eddie Belfour in 1999, but the Stars are not winning that Stanley Cup without Zubov. In the 1999 playoffs, he played half of the game before Duncan Keith made it the cool thing to do.  In terms of total minutes in 1999, Zubov played nearly 700, an absurd amount of time. When the games mattered the most for the Stars, Ken Hitchcock and Dave Tippet relied on Zubov above everyone else, to the tune of 5 division championships, annual second round appearances, and multiple finals births. He also made plays like this, that put the Stars over the top.

In terms of stats and accomplishments, the hall of fame doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Here is an example: These two stat lines are from defenseman in the 1990s and 2000s, and one is a hall of fame defenseman. Let’s see whose is whose.

Defensemen #1: 1,263 games played, 172 goals, 568 assists, 740 points
Defensemen #2: 1,068 games played, 152 goals, 619 assists, 771 points

Defenseman number two has the be the Hall of Famer right? Wrong.

Defenseman number one is Scott Niedermayer, the Stanley Cup winner from the New Jersey Devils and Anaheim Ducks. He was enshrined in the Hall back in 2013, and he deserves to be there. He is a champion and an elite two way defenseman, but his numbers aren’t close to defenseman number two: Sergei Zubov.

In almost 200 less games, Zubov still has more points and assists then Niedermayer. Zubov also has two Stanley Cups under his belt, with two different franchises. His first Cup with the New York Rangers, in his second season, is considered one of the most historic in NHL history. He was a huge part of that team in 1994, putting up 89 points in the regular season and an additional 20 in the post season. His second, of course, being the one he won in 1999 in Dallas. Oh, and if you’re looking for international success, Zubov won an Olympic gold medal in 1992 with the unified team, and a WJC gold in 1989 with the USSR.

I understand that a handful of worthy players are not enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame; it is that selective and the pinnacle of the sport. The stain of not winning a Stanley Cup can be erased by being inducted into the Hall. However, for the life of me I do not understand how the league has passed over perhaps the greatest Russian defenseman in NHL history. It’s a mistake, it’s unforgivable, and it is time that Zubov receives the respect that he justly deserves.

While I am criticizing the HHOF for not inducting Zubov, let me also lay a little of it at the feet of the Dallas Stars franchise as well.

For 12 seasons, this franchise had a defenseman who received a Norris Trophy vote in 10 of them. He was a key acquisition that arguably put the Stars on the path to their late 1990s/early 2000s dominance of the NHL. Without him, the Stars do not have half of the banners hanging in the American Airlines Center. The franchise has not been the same since, and even though we have Klingberg, we are truthfully hoping that he is even half of what Zubov was for this franchise.

It was time to retire his number years ago, and the fact that 56 is still in circulation and not with #9 and #26 in the rafters is embarrassing.

The HHOF and the Dallas Stars franchise need to do better, and give this legend of the game his due. So I proudly jump in line with the many people who saw him play, and scratch my head in amazement and sadness, to the fact that a great player is being all but forgotten.