At noon Thursday, Dainius Zubrus cleared waivers and was bought out by the New Jersey Devils, making the 37-year-old winger an unrestricted free agent.
It doesn’t seem likely that the Lithuanian native will ink another NHL deal, especially not after recording the worst season of his pro career in 2014-15. If he does come back, he’ll have the chance to improve on his 225-goal, 584-point NHL career. However, if this is it, Zubrus will go down as one of the greatest ‘Z’s in the history of the league.
While there are some players who stand a chance at jumping up this list – think players such as Ottawa’s Mika Zibanejad and Colorado’s Nikita Zadorov -- these are the best of the best when it comes to players with a ‘Z’ surname who have laced up in the NHL. There have only been 51 skaters and four goaltenders to actually suit up, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some greats among the list.
10. Mats Zuccarello
Zuccarello, or the ‘Norwegian Hobbit’ as some in New York have taken to calling him, has steadily improved since breaking into the league 2010-11. He might only be five seasons deep into his NHL career, but Zuccarello has all the makings of a player who could be a steady depth contributor for years and years to come.
Over the past two seasons, Zuccarello has managed 34 goals and 108 points. He’s just entering his prime, so he’s likely to have at least six or seven more quality years ahead of him. If he continues to average about 50 points per season, he’ll easily be one of the top 10 scorers of the Z-name group. He’s already 17th.
Sadly, Zednik is remembered more for an on-ice incident in which a skate hit him in the throat than he is for his ability to play the game. Over his 700-plus game career, Zednik scored 200 goals and 379 points and had one incredible, 31-goal season as a Montreal Canadien in 2002-03.
Zednik was never a top-line player, but he still managed to eclipse the 30-point plateau in seven of the 12 seasons he suited up for in which he played more than half a campaign. That’s the picture of consistency. Now 39, Zednik hasn’t played in the NHL since 2008-09, when he scored 17 goals and 33 points for Florida.
8. Peter Zezel
While he’s best remembered by Canadian hockey fans for his four seasons as a Toronto Maple Leaf, Zezel was on top of his game during the early years of his career. During the high-flying era of the early 1980s, Zezel was nearly a point-per-game player as a 19-year-old with the Philadelphia Flyers and over his five seasons in the City of Brotherly Love, Zezel scored 91 goals and 261 points in 310 games.
Zezel’s final year in the NHL came in 1998-99 as a member of the Vancouver Canucks and he ended his career with 219 goals and 608 points in 873 career games. Zezel passed away suddenly in 2009. He was 44.
7. Dainius Zubrus
The man who sparked this list, Zubrus has played more games in the NHL than any other player on the list and has been quite productive. His 584 points are the fifth best mark of any player and his 225 goals ranks third.
Zubrus was a first round pick, 15th overall, of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1996, but his best years came while a member of the Washington Capitals following the lockout. Alongside a young star named Alex Ovechkin, Zuburs posted back-to-back 55-plus point campaigns, including a career best 24-goal, 60-point year in 2006-07. That same campaign, he finished the season with the Buffalo Sabres.
It’s hard to believe a player with the name Zarley Zalapski could be from Edmonton, Alta., but that’s exactly where the defenseman hails from. Zalapski was a standout in junior and parlayed it into becoming the fourth overall selection in the 1986 draft, five spots ahead of Brian Leetch.
Over the course of his career, Zalapski would have some good years mixed in with some forgettable ones, but the 1992-93 season of his career will always stand out. That season, as a 24-year-old blueliner, Zalapski scored 14 goals and 65 points, a career high, in 83 games with the Hartford Whalers. The year prior, he had set his career high by having a 20-goal, 57-point season.
Zidlicky’s agent, Allan Walsh, said the 38-year-old defenseman will be back for one more year, which isn’t surprising considering he can still be a threat on the power play and proved it this past season with three power play markers in 21 games with the Red Wings.
Zidlicky is currently a free agent, but he mustered seven goals and 34 points in 84 games this past season. He’s got the ability to still log middle-pairing minutes and could be a cheap, effective addition to any blueline that needs it.
Were it not for him not entering the NHL until he was 26, Zidlicky could very well be higher up this list.
4. Alex Zhamnov
Zhamnov may have made his name with the Winnipeg Jets, but the Russian pivot was a staple on some bad Blackhawks teams in the mid-90s until the mid-00s. That’s not to suggest that any of that was Zhamnov’s fault, but rather that he was about the only weapon on rosters that featured the likes of Mark Bell, Tyler Arnason and Kyle Calder.
The best season of Zhamnov’s career, at least offensively, was the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season, in which he went off for 30 goals and 65 points in 48 games. He was named to the league’s second all-star team and finished third in the league in both goals and points.
For a decade, Zhitnik wasn’t just part of the Buffalo Sabres defense, he was the Buffalo Sabres defense. From 1994-95 to 2003-04, Zhitnik played in more than 700 games for the Sabres, scored 55 goals and 289 points and locked roughly 25 minutes per game. During the 1998-99 Stanley Cup run, where the Sabres fell victim to the most controversial Stanley Cup winning goal in league history off the stick of Dallas’ Brett Hull, Zhitnik scored four goals and 15 points.
He played his final NHL season in 2007-08 as a member of the Atlanta Thrashers, but he didn’t retire until 2009-10, when he finished his career with the KHL’s Dynamo Moscow. Zhitnik ended his career with 96 goals and 471 points in 1,085 NHL games.
2. Sergei Zubov
Zubov was on the other end of the 1998-99 Stanley Cup final as the Dallas Stars won the Stanley Cup and skated nearly an hour of game time in the Cup-clinching game. As much as Zhitnik was the Sabres defense, when you think about all-time great Dallas defensemen, Zubov has to be right at the top of the list.
After playing three seasons with the New York Rangers, including a 12-goal, 89-point 1993-94 season, Zubov spent one year in Pittsburgh before becoming a Dallas Star. He would play the next 12 years in Texas before leaving the NHL at 38 to play one season in the KHL. Over the course of his career, Zubov scored 152 goals and 771 points in 1,068 games.
Forget all-time Z players, Zetterberg has slowly worked himself into the conversation as one of the league’s all-time players. While he’s not going to make many top 10s, he might be among the top 100 players of all-time, and he certainly has a case to make.
Over his career, Zetterberg has 296 goals and 786 points, one Stanley Cup and a Conn Smythe Trophy. During the 2007-08 Red Wings Cup run, Zetterberg scored 13 goals and 27 points and scored four game-winners for the Wings. He played on the penalty kill, power play and was crucial to the success of that Wings team. The very next year, he did it all again with Detroit coming just one win short of back-to-back Cups.
Zetterberg will almost certainly have his number retired by the Red Wings when his career is over. Not bad for a player taken in the seventh-round, 210th overall on what could be considered one of the greatest late-round draft selections in NHL history.