Its easy to get lost in the hockey world of Dallas. Even while the Stars drew great attendance numbers in their last decade or so of dominance, they weren't exactly a big-market NHL team. During this time though, the cornerstone of their success was not Mike Modano, it wasn't Jere Lehtinen and it wasn't Brett Hull (thats not to say these players didn't make significant impacts on their own) but it was number 56 that almost never gets credit in hockey circles as one of the most dominant defenseman on his time.
Sure you hear the odd intellectual hockey pundit bring his name up every now and then, but after they say Lidstrom, Pronger, Niedermeyer and co. Make no mistake though, Sergei Zubov is up there with those names.
A 5th round draft pick of the New York Rangers, Sergei came over from Russia with low expectations (which he shouldn't have as 6 goals and 2 assists in 48 games on a professional Russian team full of grown men and an 18 year old Pavel Bure is nothing to sneeze at). Sergei stayed over in Russia for two years following his draft before coming over to North America.
The defenseman made his name quickly, nothing 7 goals and 36 points in 30 games with New York's AHL affiliate and quickly earning a promotion to the big club, where he would finish his first NHL year with 8 goals and 31 points in 49 games. That would normally earn any defenseman a Calder trophy easily, unfortunately Teemu Selanne was busy scoring 76 goals and 132 points for the Jets that same season.
In the following two seasons in New York, Zubov would post 22 goals and 125 points in 116 games, quickly establishing himself as one of the NHL's most dominant offensive forces from the backend. In neither year was he given an all-star invitation nor even a mention on the end of year all-star team , in fact it took him until 2006 to be named to his first end of year all star team, he made the second team.
Sergei was dealt twice before landing in Dallas, where he never regained the PPG dominance he had in New York, but people still feared #56 when he was on the powerplay. The year before Zubov arrived Dallas went 26-42-14 for a mere 66 points. The year after they notched 48 wins and 104 wins. Was this all due to Zubov? Of course not, was it a big reason? You better believe it.
Zubov regularly logged over 25 minutes a game for the Stars, on a team known for its excellent defensive system Sergei was one of their flashing beacons of excellence. He could shut the oppositions best players down and then dazzle with his offensive skillset at the other end. In Zubov's tenure as a Star, Dallas won one Stanley Cup and made another Finals appearance, had eight 100 point seasons and were one of the leagues most consistent domiant forces despite being from an non-traditional market and Zubov was their spearhead from the blueline.
Sergei ended his career a .14 GPG and .72 PPG man. He created .23 GPG (more on this later), as a comparison Lidstrom is a career .17 GPG and .75 PPG guy. Zubov did this though on the defense-happy Stars (not saying Detroit wasn't defense-focused, but not to the degree Dallas was).
Zubov has only been invited to three all-star games, one Norris nomination and nowhere near the recognition he deserves.
But now hes gone, home to Russia after the 39 year old decided that was his best option.
Zubov leaves the NHL now and probably forever, the questions that lie now is outside of Dallas fans, will he be missed as he truly deserves?