July 16, 2009
He'll be 39 years old on July 22. He's got Kevin Spacey's hairline and a mending hip that limited him to 10 games last season. Yet in 2007-08, defenseman Sergei Zubov(notes) had 16 power-play points in just 46 games; the season before that, he had 40 in 78 games.
Zubov is a 'last piece of the puzzle' veteran offensive defenseman who happens to still be on the market as an unrestricted free agent. If he remains healthy after hip surgery -- and we're talking a Kyle Wellwood(notes) after polishing off three boxes of Timbits-sized "if" here -- Zubov could be a game-changer on a team's power-play blue line and a savvy presence in the locker room.
What's changed for Zubov in the last week is that his time with the Dallas Stars appears at an end. His agent, Jay Grossman, told ESPN that Zubov "would like to take a look at something else" after an astounding 12-year run with Dallas. The regime change with the Stars, that saw Joe Nieuwendyk(notes) come in as GM and Marc Crawford as coach after last season, wasn't a factor.
This is a slight change in plans from earlier this summer, when Zubov's camp indicated that the Stars would have a chance to match any offer he received as a UFA. We asked Grossman about Zubov's current free-agent plans:
"The report by ESPN is accurate. The report earlier this summer was also accurate. This was done more out of courtesy to the Stars and Joe Nieuwendyk, Sergei's friend and former teammate.
"However, we have thought it best for Sergei to look at his other options and also frankly, that the Stars look to turn the page with a different group of players. He has had a great run in Dallas which will always remain a tremendous experience and expressed that to Tom Hicks, who has personally shown great support to Sergei and his family. From day one, other people like Bob Gainey, Doug Armstrong, Ken Hitchcock, Rick Wilson, and Dave Tippett have had a great deal to do with his success. He has also enjoyed the relationships with his many teammates, especially during the Stanley Cup run."
So it would appear his time with the Stars is at an end, which begs the question: Where does he go from here?
Zubov earned $5.35 million last season, a number one assumes will be adjusted in his next contract. The notion that the New York Rangers are in the hunt for their former defenseman when you look at the NHL-level defensemen under contract right now. They'd have the cap room as well. The New Jersey Devils were also discussed as an option, although their blue line is a bit more crowded.
If you didn't believe Zubov and the Columbus Blue Jackets weren't a match made in hockey heaven before, you will after reading Rory Boylen's take for The Hockey News. Of course, when you're power play is clicking at 12.7 percent, the exhumed body of Sergei Rachmaninov, let alone Sergei Zubov, would be an improvement.
As for the Dallas Stars, losing Zubov means losing one of the most popular players in the franchise's post-Minnesota history. Sure, that passion's been tempered in two frustrating seasons of injuries; but we've seen the word "sad" tossed around more often than not on the Dallas blogs talking about Zubi, whose number should hang from the Dallas rafters one day.
But as Mike Heika pointed out on Dallas Stars Blog, this could be a mutually beneficial decision by Zubov:
2. I've always had a theory that the more important the player, the worse it is that he is injury prone. In other words, if Zubov is playing 25 minutes a game and gets hurt, it really messes up your whole team. I think teams saw that with a player like Eric Lindros(notes) or Marian Gaborik(notes). When you have a very good player, and when he gets hurt, it forces major changes in the lineup.
Now watch him play 78 games somewhere else ...