(Note: This an updated version of something we wrote just over two years ago.)
According to Russian newspaper Sports Express, Former Penguins defenseman Sergei Zubov has decided to bring his playing career to an end. Zubov missed all of the 2010-11 season for St. Petersburgh SKA of the KHL due to a hip injury.
For much of the "dead-puck" era from the mid 1990s to mid 2000s, Zubov was one of the best defensemen in the NHL. His 771 career points are the 17th best total all-time among defensemen. Considering the peak of his career was right smack dab in a very defensive era of hockey 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.
Zubov could play defense too. While 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.
The Penguins initially acquired him in the 1995 offseason along with Petr Nedved in a deal which sent fan favorites Luc Robitaille and Ulf Samuelsson to the rival Rangers. During 1995-96, he had 66 points (11 goals, 55 assists) in 64 games for an average of 1.03 points per game. He is one of four defensemen in team history to have hit the point per game mark during a single season. That put him in the elite company of 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.) Zubov added 15 points in 18 postseason games that spring.
Somewhat ironically, given the struggles of the current Penguins' roster, Zubov could frustrate with the power play. Despite leading the NHL with a success rate of 26.0 with the man advantage, the Penguins probably led the NHL in calls to "shooooootttt!!!!" from home fans, due in part to Zubov's preference to hold onto the puck.
There was allegedly a rift of some sort between Zubov and Mario Lemieux that led in part 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.
Zubov's had a brief and brilliant run with the Penguins, but ultimately, he will alway be a "what-if" in Pittsburgh.
(Photos: Penguins Hockey Cards)