Have you ever watched a Stars game and thought how lucky you are? No really, all of us - Stars Fans, NHL viewers and media - have all been treated to view the greatness that is Sergei Zubov on a nightly basis since he came to the team in the summer of 1996.
Simply put – Sergei Zubov is one of the greatest defensemen to ever play the game. He’s only been nominated for a Norris Trophy (given to the league’s top defenseman) once and that alone is a crime. But it’s how Zubov likes it; he does not want the individual accolades or the limelight. He just wants to win.
“For me, it’s all about winning and it’s all about playing for the team,” said Zubov. “It’s the only thing that is important to me.”
A big part of Zubov not being mentioned as a Norris candidate more often can be attributed to his non-desire to promote himself and his limited media exposure combined with the fact that the Stars play in the Western Conference. Perhaps this is the year that Zubov gets a real chance to win the award.
Zubov leads all league defensemen in scoring with 28 points in 31 games. The correlation between his stats and Dallas’ record is clear – when Zubov plays well, the Stars win. He has 21 points and a +16 rating in Dallas’ 16 wins this season while he has just 7 points and a –15 rating in the other 15 contests (losses or overtime/shootout losses).
“If you ask any coach around the league – when they are preparing to play our team, they talk quite a bit about him,” said Stars Head Coach Dave Tippett. “Zubie is not underrated by the players and coaches in this league but the light media exposure has kept him from becoming a household name with the common fan. But again, that’s the way he likes it.”
Zubov is the only defenseman in the league to collect 30-or-more assists and 40+ points in each of the last 11 seasons since 1995.
Watch Zubov on a Stars power play. Often, he’ll remain on the ice when the first unit changes and play the full two minutes from the point while Dallas has the man-advantage. Zubov is one of the main keys why Dallas’ power play has been very successful over the last decade. The Stars’ power play unit has ranked in the top eight of the league six times since he arrived. It ranks sixth this season.
“His game on the point is such that he has the ability to stay out there and that is important for us,” said Mike Modano. “He is very important to our power play and you can see it every night. Usually if we create a scoring chance on the power play he had something to do with it.”
Zubov definitely has the talent, but perhaps his greatest attribute as a hockey player is his brain and his vision to see a play before it happens.
“To me, there’s only a few players ever that I’ve had to change my call for and adapt my style to and he’s one of them,” said Stars play-by-play man Ralph Strangis. “Zubie, Hull and Modano are the only ones. Because when they’re on the ice, I always have to watch them on my periphery vision because they are going to do what no one else can do. With Hull it was like ‘Where’s Waldo’ - he’ll pop out of nowhere to shoot and score. With Modano it’s his skating and play-making ablity. With Zubie, I have to look over the ice when he’s got the puck and is looking over the ice. If you’re watching Zubov with the puck, you’re going to get burned because he is already looking at the next play.”
Zubov earned his 600th career assist on Nov. 21 vs. Anaheim, becoming just the 15th defenseman in NHL history to reach the milestone.
“It’s great to play with Zubie,” said Modano. “He makes it look so easy. It’s his vision and his creativity that some people probably take for granted. This year is nothing different for him. He’s still an excellent player and has been consistent his entire career.”
Zubov had surgery in the off-season to repair a sports hernia and worked hard over the summer to be ready for training camp. The three-time All-Star continues to play at a high level at the age of 37.
“It speaks volumes about his love of the game and his commitment to the game. It’s a lot of hard work to come back from that (surgery),” said Tippett. “It’s like pulling teeth to get him off the ice for an optional skate. He loves the game and wants to be out there all the time. He is so smart and so skilled but he also has a real passion for the game that allows him to play at a top, top level.”
Zubov is known for his prowess on offense when he has the puck but his ability on defense to get the puck back has only gotten better over the years.
“He thinks that’s one of his greatest accomplishments is learning to play a smart defensive game,” said Tippett. “That speaks volumes about his ability to adapt, his ability to do whatever it takes to help the team win. He’s a big-minute guy and he has used his offensive ability to be a strong defensive player as well. It’s not by overpowering people; it’s by outthinking people and anticipating. It’s about doing things with the puck that doesn’t bring trouble on yourself. His defensive game is based on making strong plays and making smart, clever plays in all the areas.”
Still, you won’t hear Sergei Zubov talk about himself much. Wednesday at practice all he wanted to talk about was the game against the Kings on Thursday and the need to get another two points. One reporter brought up the great season he is having and asked him if deep-down he had any desire to win the Norris Trophy this season.
“No, not really. Honestly I don’t care about winning the Norris Trophy or any other individual award,” said Zubov. “For me, it’s all about winning for the team and my teammates.”
There is one word you can associate with Zubov – winner. Coach Tippett summed him up perfectly.
“That’s just the kind of person he is and it is what makes him a wonderful teammate and a great player.”
Perhaps a Norris Trophy is in the cards for Zubov this season. His on-ice performance has been great for a long time and this may be the year that the voters cannot ignore him.