The irony of the Stars announcing the retirement of Sergei Zubov's No. 56 Monday and saying that nobody will ever wear it going forward is the fact that nobody else has ever worn it to this point.
It's fitting … he was that unique.
When Zubov came to the Stars from Pittsburgh in a trade for Kevin Hatcher in 1996, the Stars really hadn't had that type of player. When he left in 2009, he sort of defined a stretch of winning for the team that is the best in franchise history.
['HECK YES!': Hockey world, Stars fans react to Zubov's jersey retirement]
In Zubov's 12 seasons with the Stars, Dallas went 546-298-121 for a .628 points percentage (and that includes his final season in which he played only 10 games and Dallas missed the playoffs). The Stars during that span won seven division championships, made the playoffs 10 times, made four trips to the Western Conference finals and won one Stanley Cup.
"He was special when he was here, you couldn't help but recognize that," said Rick Wilson, who was Zubov's defensive coach in Dallas. "He was a main ingredient to us being a good team, he was a big part of that. But just as important, he was a big part of bringing hockey to Dallas and making it popular.
"I really do think he made his mark here."
Video: Stars to retire Sergei Zubov's No. 56 in 2020-21
Zubov will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Monday and will watch his number go up into the rafters sometime next season. The first honor includes his time with the Rangers and Penguins, as well as his time in Russia and in international play. The second is strictly for his time with the Stars. He will join Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen from his era as players to get his number retired. Also retired for the franchise are Neal Broten, Bill Goldsworthy and Bill Masterton.
"It's a great honor, and you can see how rare it is," said Stars president Brad Alberts of the team's announcement to retire Zubov's number. "We have always wanted to do this, and now that he is being put it into the Hockey Hall of Fame, it makes an easy decision even easier. It's going to be a great night."
The Stars will look at the schedule next season and decide on the date. It will be a chance for hockey fans in Texas to show their gratitude.
Zubov is typically shy and doesn't like talking about himself, but said that he is sincerely honored by these accolades.
"It's for family, I think, and friends and people you have played with," Zubov said. "It's a nice tribute to them."
Modano said the experiences are very emotional, and he said he'll expect plenty of soul-searching from Zubov.
"It really makes you look back at everything you did in your career, how your family helped you when you were young, moving away when you were pretty much just a kid, your whole life dedicated to the sport, and just all of the blood, sweat and tears you poured into it," Modano said. "You don't do it to get recognized, but when they do recognize you, it gets pretty emotional."
While many feel Zubov should have been honored a few years back, the 49-year-old said he has been fine with anything that comes his way. The native of Moscow, who moved to the United States at age 22 to play with the New York Rangers, has always been quiet. He was reserved around the media and was able to play in a time when players didn't have to sell themselves, so getting this attention even now can be a bit awkward.
But it's certainly due for what he has accomplished. In the franchise history of the Stars in Minnesota and Dallas, Zubov leads all defensemen in games played (839), points (549), goals (111), assists (438), and plus/minus (plus-103). In franchise playoff history, he is third overall among all players in games played (114), second overall in assists (57) and fifth overall in points (72).
"He had everything," said former Stars defenseman Craig Ludwig. "Could you imagine if they had analytics back when he played? He would lead in every category -- puck possession, zone exits, zone entries, he would be at the top of the league. He never got the credit that was due to him, I think, because people didn't understand how good he was. I think players and coaches understood, but he didn't get the media attention."
Part of that was because Zubov never wanted the media attention, Ludwig said, and part of it was because he simply wanted to win hockey games.
"I think he really understood how good he was, and he didn't need to tell anybody how good he was, and he didn't need anybody to tell him how good he was," Ludwig said. "I think he was just happy to play the game and prove it on the ice."
Video: Zubov's last second game-winner
Zubov has been coaching in the KHL in Russia but was recently fired by Sochi. He has visited with Stars General Manager Jim Nill and they are working on a plan where Zubov might help the Stars in assessing players. Zubov is living in the New York area right now, so he's available to help, but finding out the how still is a process.
Maybe he'll be in Dallas a lot more in the near future, but he'll definitely be here next season to see his number go to the rafters.
A number that nobody else has worn.
[PHOTOS: A look back at Zubov's accomplished run with the Stars]
When Zubov left the Stars, it was clear that this day might be coming at some point in the future, and that's why you don't see any training camp rosters or prospects games with a No. 56 from the Stars. There was a respect surrounding that number the day he left.
"I just think we all figured it would happen eventually," Wilson said of both the number retirement and the Hall of Fame induction. "It was sort of how he played the game. He was never into public recognition, he was just into his craft.
"I think it's fitting for him to finally get recognized now."
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika, and listen to his podcast.
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