Thursday, July 16, 2009

Preparing for Life After Zubov

D050061007.jpgI finally have a chance to write about the Stars again, and more specifically, the story that is in the process of completion as speak: The exit of the great Sergei Zubov.

I think many of us hate to see this happen. Zubov is one of my absolute favorite Dallas Stars for years and years. Imagining this organization moving on without him is as tough to process as moving on without Mike Modano or Jere Lehtinen.

But, there comes a time. And that time is now it would appear.

Zubov and his agent claim that they have up to 9 teams who are interested in Zubov. That is a believable number, and in reality, you wonder what the other 20 teams are thinking. A healthy Zubov merits a spot on any team in the National Hockey League. A healthy Zubov is amazing.

A healthy Zubov, say one that is somewhere between the ages of 25-37, is one that kills all of the penalties, powers all of the power plays, and plays roughly 30 minutes of every 60 minute playoff game. He is the calmest player on the ice, but also plays with incredible vision and clarity of what each moment calls for. There is no question that Sergei Zubov is a player who belongs in the Hockey Hall of Fame, and it will be an absolute travesty (in my eyes, at least) if that doesn't happen.

But, that is for later. What about now? Didn't the Dallas Stars have the 27th best Power Play in the NHL? And, didn't they also have the 24th best Penalty Kill in the NHL? And would anyone argue that he is the very best defensemen on both of those units that the Dallas Stars have EVER had? - (Some might suggest Derian Hatcher was the better penalty killer for his fine work clearing the crease in front of Ed Belfour, but I would roll with Zubie) - I think back to the firing of Dave Tippett, and when Joe Nieuwendyk was at the press conference he made reference to the special teams not being terribly special. I would interject that Dave Tippett was trying to make due without his best option on the ice.

Which brings us to where we are right now for both parties. I don't believe Sergei Zubov wants to leave Dallas. And, truth be told, I don't belive the Dallas Stars want Zubov to leave Dallas, either. So, why is this about to happen?

Follow the money.

The last two seasons, the Stars have paid Zubov over $10 million dollars, and over that stretch Zubov has missed over 100 games. It wasn't that he didn't want to play, as his hip and sports hernia were in a state of disrepair. He was broken. And, therefore, the prospect of his return was a cloud that was looming for the entire 2nd half of the 2007-08 season. Then, the Stars signed up for another year to do it again at $5.35 million dollars in 2008-09, because they believed Zubov was better and ready to roll. But his hip wasn't. In fact, there is belief in some circles that the wear and tear of thousands of days on the ice will require a hip replacement eventually for Zubov. But, last season, yet again, the Stars had their Porsche in the shop, and waited and waited for the return that would make everything better.

They were burned once by gambling on a player who might be "done", and lost. And signed up again. And lost again. They will not get burned a third time, apparently, unless he wants to take the gamble of agreeing to a significant wage cut.

I am sure they would be happy to offer him a Jere Lehtinen-like deal for $1.5 million once he demonstrates his health.

From Zubov's standpoint, he knows that when he is healthy, he is worth way more than $1.5 million. He also has pride, that no-doubt has him in a spot where he might take a discount to move, but making less than Trevor Daley would not allow him to take that big of a hair-cut here in Dallas. For some reason, players are more open to taking a lesser role in a new organization (Tony Dorsett, for instance). Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen are the exceptions to this rule, but they are in a minority in sports.

The Stars paid $10 million + to see him in street clothes for the majority of the last 2 years. You understand their position of demanding proof he is healthy before flushing more money down this particular toilet.

Zubov's agent is doing his best to get Sergei the best deal possible by getting interest going around the league, which appears to be somewhat tepid until he can demonstrate he can play.

Sergei wants to be paid what he is worth. And what he is worth is based on an offer. A reuniting with Ken Hitchcock in Columbus seems to be where the wind is blowing today, but who knows?

I would love to have the guy back, but the reality is that the Sergei Zubov we all remember (and the one he remembers) may be gone forever. He turns 39 next Wednesday, and his odometer has turned over a few times already.

I believe he has some good hockey left in him, but I can't blame the Stars for holding firm in their stance. It is a logical move not to be burned 3 years in a row.

He has been a fabulous member of the Stars organization, and his #56 must be retired moments after he does. But we should all be prepared to see Zubov in another jersey when and if that hip allows him to perform his magic on the ice again this season.

We always said that you will only truly appreciate Sergei Zubov when he is gone. Well, 2008 and 2009 have shown us how special he was and the Stars continue to have a large void to attempt to fill.

Hate to see this all happen, but, Father Time wins again.

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