Defenseman Sergei Zubov is one of those players who seems to garner more respect from those who played with and against him than those who didn’t. He has been eligible for the Hall of Fame since 2013 and has been passed over each time.
One way to judge how valuable a player was to his team is to see how long it takes to replace him. Zubov last played for the Dallas Stars in 2009. They still haven’t found an adequate player to take his place.
"We were a playoff team with him and when he left, we spent the next several years looking for his replacement," former Stars assistant general manager Frank Provenzano said. "He had that ability to impact the game. [Goalie] Marty [Turco] was great at moving the puck. He’d move to Zuby, who would move it on to somebody else."
It worked well for Dallas, which won the Stanley Cup in 1999 with Zubov playing a ridiculous 30:16 per game that postseason.
The case for
Where to start? First of all, his teams won. He won a Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers in 1994, putting up 19 points in 22 playoff games that spring. In the Stars' championship season, he led the playoffs with a plus-13 while carrying the heaviest workload of any defenseman that spring.
He played in 1,068 career games and had 152 goals and 619 assists. Those numbers stack up favorably with defensemen of his era who are already in the Hall of Fame. He has more career points than recent inductees Mark Howe and Scott Niedermayer.
His 117 points in the playoffs are No. 12 all time among defensemen.
He also deserves recognition for being one of the best Russian defensemen to ever play in the NHL. His 771 points are topped only by Sergei Gonchar among Russian defensemen. After that, there isn’t one with more than 500 career points.
The case against
The Hall of Fame should be reserved for the best of the best and Zubov never finished higher than third in the Norris Trophy voting, and even that season (2005-06) he didn’t receive a single first-place vote. That’s part of the downside of playing in an era in which Nicklas Lidstrom existed.
The season he finished fourth (1993-1994), he trailed Ray Bourque, Scott Stevens and Al MacInnis. He edged out Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios, Paul Coffey and Lidstrom. There were a lot of great defensemen in his era.
That also helps explain why he was on only three NHL All-Star Games (1998, 1999, 2000), another strike against him.
He deserves a spot in the Hall. He was a game-changer on the ice who played on great teams that depended heavily on him for their success. He has always been a little bit underappreciated, and that might have to do more with his passport than anything he did on the ice.
"If he was Canadian, he’d already be in," Provenzano said.
ESPN panel: 55 percent voted into Hockey Hall of Fame.