Sergei Zubov (right) is on the verge of bolting to the KHL. We won't ever rule anything out, but given that he's 38, this all but ends his NHL career.
It might be hard to remember given how many injuries he had dealt with the past few seasons, but Zubov was one of the best defensement in the NHL for at least a decade. He has 771 career points, the 18th best total all-time among defensemen. Considering the peak of his career was right smack dab in the middle of the "dead puck" era and that he played for Ken Hitchcock, a coach who seems to consider anything more than one goal as an offensive outburst, Zubov's numbers are even more impressive.
Another thing to remember about Zubov is that he was the Rangers' leading scorer during their Stanley Cup-winning season in 1993-94 with 89 points. Not Mark Messier. Not Brian Leetch. Not Adams Graves. Zubov
But numbers don't tell Zubov's entire story. He was similar to Sergei Gonchar when it came to defense. He wasn't going to make you forget someone like Adam Foote, but he saw regular minutes on the penalty kill as a player who was always positionally sound and just possessed good hockey sense.
That's what made the fact that the Penguins dealt him after one season a bit of a sore point with Penguins fans. He had 66 points (11 goals, 55 assists) in 64 games that season for an average of 1.03 points per game. He was one of four defensemen in team history to have hit the point per game mark during a single season. The others were Randy Carlyle, Paul Coffey and Larry Murphy. (The legendary Steve Durbano had one point in one game during the 1974-75 season, but we'll exclude him.)
There was allegedly a rift of some sort between Zubov and Mario Lemieux that led to a trade that sent him to Dallas for Kevin Hatcher in the 1996 offseason. It's not quite Markus Naslund for Alex Stojanov, but the Penguins unquestionably were on the wrong end of this deal regardless of the reasons. The Stars got a player who at 25, eventually gave them 12 years of mostly Norris Trophy-caliber play. And he was vital part of their Stanley Cup title in 1999. The Penguins picked up a 29-year-old Hatcher who did go to an All-Star Game his first year in Pittsburgh, but was on the back nine of his career. He only spent three seasons with the Penguins and was out of the league within five years. Additionally, Hatcher's game was in no way shape or form nearly as complete as Zubov's.
What might be the most sobering aspect of Zubov's departure that that there are only now seven players still in the NHL who played for the Penguins during the 1990s:
- Andrew Ference, D, Bruins
- Alex Kovalev, RW, Senators
- Patrick Lalime, G, Sabres
- Robert Lang, C, free agent
- Richard Park, RW, Islanders
- Mark Recchi, RW, Bruins
- Michal Rozsival, D, Rangers