The silence didn’t last long, but it was telling.
Sergei Zubov didn’t know what to say, didn’t know how to react.
The answer to this one question is something the Russian-born, Dallas Stars defenseman admittedly has never, not once in his 15-year NHL career, pondered. He was so thrown off, in fact, that this veteran of countless media inquiries actually staggered.
“Do you ever think about the Hall of Fame?” was the question.
“Uh, not really,” was Zubov’s answer. “I don’t know. It’s really hard to think about that kind of stuff. I’ll be honest, I never thought about it. I’ll say it again, it’s really hard to think about that kind of stuff.”
Sure, when you’re 37-years-old, still in good shape and still near the top of your game, why would anyone start thinking about what could happen in retirement, even if that retirement includes accepting an induction at a future Hall of Fame ceremony?
While Zubov doesn’t see it -- or at least doesn’t admit it -- he has credentials to warrant being in the discussion for hockey’s highest individual honor.
“I would say, to me, there is no question he’ll get in the Hall of Fame,” said Stars General Manager Doug Armstrong.
Armstrong went on to list some of the highlights dotting Zubov’s resume, such as the two Stanley Cups he won, with the New York Rangers in 1994 and the Dallas Stars in 1999, and how he’s been an ultra-productive offensive defenseman going on 15 seasons now.
Zubov is the all-time leading scorer among defensemen in Minnesota/Dallas franchise history, which dates back to 1967, and he’s the League’s all-time leading scorer among Russian defensemen. He also won Olympic gold in 1992, and World Junior gold in 1989.
“He’s got the patience with the puck that you’d like all of your defensemen to have at least just 10 percent of,” said Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock, who coached Zubov in Dallas for 6½ seasons. “He makes plays and finds open people that not many people in the game can. He’s made a career out of being a complete player.”
Zubov, who has been nominated for a Norris Trophy only once (2006), enters Thursday night’s game at Los Angeles with 149 goals and 587 assists for 736 career points and a plus-145 rating in 1,020 regular season games. He also has 23 goals and 88 assists for 111 points and a plus-32 rating in 153 playoff games.
By comparison, Scott Niedermayer, who along with Nicklas Lidstrom, is a standard-bearer for offensive defenseman in this era, has played in 33 more regular-season games, but has 128 fewer points, including nine fewer goals and 119 fewer assists.
Niedermayer, though, owns a Norris Trophy (2004) and a Conn Smythe Trophy (2007), and has been on four Stanley Cup championship teams, captaining the Anaheim Ducks to the title last season. He also is a plus-186 during the regular season.
Lidstrom’s numbers – 203 goals, 671 assists – make him a Hall of Fame lock.
“If Lidstrom and Niedermayer are the benchmarks, than he’s right there,” Armstrong said. “If you mention Zubov’s name and the Hall of Fame, who says no? I would be shocked if you talk to many hockey people and ask; ‘Is he a Hall of Famer?’ if anyone says no.”
“Either superstars or franchise players, those are the players that get into the Hall of Fame,” Zubov said. “I’m neither one of them.”
According to Stars coach Dave Tippett and Hitchcock, Zubov never has been a self-promoter, which likely is why he won’t budge off his no-way, not-me stance.
Tippett, though, politely begs to differ with his star defenseman.
“If you look at his accomplishments, they speak volumes about his contributions to his teams, and they’re winning contributions,” Tippett said. “That, and the other factor of his consistency,
|Sergei Zubov remains one of the most dangerous stickhandling defensemen in the NHL.
to me that all warrants (Hall of Fame) consideration.”
Under consideration is where Tippett believes the discussion should end. There still is too much good hockey left in Zubov to think about the perks of retirement now.
Zubov, in fact, said last season’s disappointing finish coupled with his grueling off-season reinvigorated his desire to continue playing at least two more seasons -- he’s signed through 2008-09 -- and possibly beyond.
The Stars were ousted in the first round of the playoffs for the third-straight season, and Zubov couldn’t even play in Game 7 against Vancouver because of an injury that led to sports hernia surgery early in the summer.
“It was my toughest summer because with that kind of surgery you can’t do anything for a few months,” Zubov said. “But you have to get back, and that was tough. I’m glad I did it, and it was probably the best off-season I’ve had.
“Once I went through the rehab period I went right after it. It was pretty cool.”
Through eight games he’s barely missed a beat. He’s still averaging roughly 25 shifts and 25 minutes of ice time per game. He only has a goal and three assists, but Zubov’s production never has been a concern in Dallas.
“You circle his name every game, but it doesn’t really matter. He does his thing and he plays above that level,” Hitchcock said. “His consistency over time helps his teams win. You see how valuable he is if he’s ever missing from his lineup.”
There are also few doubts that Zubov can continue playing well into his 40s because of his style, and how he has adapted to the new open-ice NHL. He’s never gone out looking to play a physical game, but he rarely gets hit, either.
“He’s not the first one in the corner,” Armstrong added, “but he’s the first one leaving with the puck.”
“He thinks and anticipates the game so well that he takes some of the physical aspect out of it,” Tippett said. “He out-thinks people, and that’s why age has less of a factor on him.”
Whenever age finally does become a burden, maybe then Zubov won’t be so alarmed by the Hall of Fame discussion.
“He’s been one of the top-five defensemen for more than 10 years now,” Hitchcock said. “He’s a dominant player.”