MINSK -- Sergei Zubov(notes), to this day, holds the record with the most NHL points among Russian defensemen. He won two Stanley Cups -- with the New York Rangers and the Dallas Stars -- and participated in three NHL All-Star Games before leaving for the Russian KHL last summer.
Zubov signed with SKA St. Petersburg and instantly became one of the most successful defensemen in the KHL and a fan favorite.
Leading all defensemen in the league with 29 assists, he was voted in as a starter in the 2nd KHL All Star Game that took place in Minsk on Saturday -- a game in which he was named outstanding defenseman.
Right after the skills competition that took place only three hours before the actual all-star game, locker rooms were open to select media for about 10 minutes. Being very popular with the media, Zubov still found time to answer a few questions for Puck Daddy about the KHL, challenges of playing in Russia, the Dallas Stars and his expected retirement from professional hockey.
This is your first season in the KHL, your first season in Russia after so many years. What has been your impression so far?
The impressions are all very good. Yes, it took me some time to readjust myself to everything: bigger rinks, the style of play, which is a little different due to, once again, the size of the rink here. But as far as the level of play and competition, to be honest, I was actually a little surprised how high it was, actually. There are so many highly skilled professionals playing here. Practically, everything is at the highest level.
If an NHL player approached you and asked ‘What is the most difficult thing I will face if I go to play in the KHL?' what would your answer be?
I think it will certainly be the travel. Yes, there are cities like Minsk, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. There are high class arenas, which are a little better or a little worse somewhere. And I don't want to upset certain teams when I say this, but there are definitely arenas and hotels you stay at that are at a different level. And for players who will come over from there, this will certainly be the hardest challenge.
This was talked about a few years ago, before the KHL was born. Does the problem still exist?
It does for now. But the KHL is new. It has only been around for a couple of years. Yes, it will take some time. But we're hoping that will all change and will be on course for a change.
You participated in a few NHL all-star games, and this is your first KHL All-Star Game. Are there any differences, similarities between the events?
There are almost no differences. Once again, we've come to this beautiful arena today. It is honestly impressive. It's very beautiful and very comfortable. It's great to see that all the seats are taken by fans. I think this is the most important factor that fans from all over are here. I hope we won't disappoint them and will bring a lot of enjoyment.
In your opinion, what does the KHL have to do to attract the best players not just from the NHL, but from other leagues?
Well, of course the level of organization differs from team to team. There are certain standards, like the level of comfort that guys who will come over will expect. I think it will play a major role. I think each team's management will certainly have to pay attention to this matter. That's because everything is connected. You reap what you sow. This is no secret. And based on my experience this is what I faced for a number of years.
The way you approach everything will depend on the way you're treated. This is one of the main questions that has to raised in the KHL at the team level.
A change of topic for a bit. Do you follow the NHL? Are you aware of some problems with the Dallas Stars?
Yes. I do follow little bit, of course. And these problems, in my opinion, had to come at some point due to the crisis and personnel changes within the Stars, if I can put it this way. I have to admit that I was a little bit surprised that they didn't try to find one or two good defensemen. I think that at this point this is the most important matter for them -- defense and goaltending.
That leads to the following question: a few Stars fans still miss you on the blue line, so is there still fuel in your tank to help out an NHL team in the future? Not only the Stars.
[Sighing] I don't even know. But probably not. Let's put a full stop to all of this. First of all, my contract in the KHL is for this season and the next. And after that I don't think there will be much sense to do it. I am not made of steel, you see. And the old injuries constantly remind me of themselves. I want to say that most certainly the next season will be my last in hockey.
This means that it may be your last chance to play for Team Russia in Vancouver this year. And there is still uncertainty if you're going or not, and what your role there will be.
To be honest this is not my priority. We'll see. Time will tell. Let leave this whole situation to our officials. I think they know more about this. I am sure everything will be alright ahead of this Olympics. The most important thing right now is to concentrate all attention on preparations for the Games. I think everything will be OK.