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Time to show more love for veteran Stars defenceman Sergei Zubov

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

He's never won a Norris Trophy. Actually, he's never even been runner-up. He's third in career points among active defencemen. His passing game is among the very best in the league. He's routinely among the leading offensive defencemen in the league. Right now he actually leads all NHL defencemen in scoring.

So why is it Dallas Stars veteran Sergei Zubov doesn't get the same kind of attention as perennial Norris Trophy candidates Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger or Scott Niedermayer?

"That's just the way he wants it," Stars head coach Dave Tippett said with a laugh.

Zubov's 760 career points (152-608) are third among active blue-liners behind only Chris Chelios and Lidstrom. The 37-year-old Moscow native leads all NHL defencemen this season with 28 points (4-24) in 31 games, two more than Lidstrom. But he ranks only ninth among defencemen in Western Conference all-star fan balloting.

Is he overlooked?

"No doubt. That's the biggest understatement I've heard in a long time," said Stars goalie Marty Turco. "But he doesn't mind."

Zubov agreed to do a phone interview with The Canadian Press on Tuesday. But it's clear early on in the conversation that talking about himself ranks about as high as a trip to the dentist. He tries to re-direct every question about him to an answer about the team.

"He is who he is and he's very comfortable," said Tippett. "You always want to see a player like that recognized because he means so much to our team and how good a player he is for the league. So to not get the recognition that he deserves is certainly something that is wrong, but on the other side he's not a guy that wants to be individually recognized.

"He wants our teams stats to do the talking for him."

Zubov has been lost in the Lidstrom/Pronger/Niedermayer shuffle all decade long. His only Norris Trophy nomination came in 2005-06 and he finished third. The last defenceman not named Lidstrom, Pronger or Niedermayer to win a Norris was Al MacInnis in 1999.

Believe him, Zubov says, he's not hurt by it at all.

"No, not really, honestly," said Zubov. "I'm not the guy who is looking for recognition - trust me, that's the way I am. I'm just trying to do my job. I just want to help my team win games, that's all I'm looking for basically."

But talk to people around the league, and they will tell you unequivocally that he belongs in the same class as Lidstrom, Pronger and Niedermayer.

"He certainly should be. But he doesn't look for it," said Turco.

"His skill and his skating and his shooting, there's no better than I can really think of," added Turco. "When I'm done my career he'll probably be at the top of the list of the best players I've played with. I'm nowhere near done playing but I can say that with confidence."

It's not just about offence with Zubov. He controls the game. He anticipates plays. His passing skills are Lidstrom-like. Other NHL coaches drool over the chance to have a blue-liner kickstart the transition game like Zubov can.

"I've talked to other coaches who ask questions about him all the time because they marvel at his ability to control the game," said Tippett. "We got into Detroit and we talk about Lidstrom the same way, the ability to control, same with Pronger or Niedermayer, the effect that those players have on the game because they play such big minutes and the effect on the tempo of the game for their given team."

Zubov came into the league in 1992-93 with the New York Rangers very much an offensive player, putting up a career-high 89 points (12-77) in 78 games in 1993-94, the year the Rangers won the Stanley Cup. He's had to work hard on becoming better defensively, a slow but sure transformation that in the last several years has made him the complete player that he is.

"I'd say that's the biggest improvement for myself and I'm really proud of it, actually," Zubov said of his defensive play.

Two things jump out at Tippett when thinking about Zubov.

"First, the consistency in which he's done it," said Tippett. "His stats and consistency over the last 10 years is phenomenal; and the other thing about him is that I don't think a lot of people know about him as a person - he's a very intelligent man. He's very team-first oriented, everything he does is towards the team and winning.

"That's where his focus is, it's never on himself."

The Hockey Hall of Fame may beckon one day, which surely will surprise many given the lack of notoriety Zubov received during his career.

"He doesn't want it, but he sure deserves it," Tippett said of the attention. "There's very few people that have had the impact on the game like he has."


50-goal club(at): Scoring is down in the NHL but apparently the snipers are still finding ways to do the job. As of Tuesday morning, six players were on pace to eclipse the 50-goal barrier. Only two players turned the trick last season, Vincent Lecavalier and Dany Heatley.

Through Monday night, Ilya Kovalchuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Alex Ovechkin, Lecavalier, Daniel Alfredsson and Brad Boyes were on pace to score 50 or more goals while Rick Nash was on pace for 49.


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