An outstanding prototypical offensive defenceman, Sergei Zubov contributed significantly at both ends of the ice, and is included in the same conversations that discuss the best NHL defencemen of that era.
Sergei Zubov was born July 22, 1970 in Moscow. As the Soviet Union was dissolving, Zubov was a member of the Unified Team at the 1992 Winter Olympic Games and earned Olympic gold in that tournament.
Drafted 85th overall in the fifth round of the 1990 Entry Draft by the New York Rangers while starring with CSKA Moscow (Central Red Army), Zubov was one of the first Soviets to play the vast majority of their career in the NHL. Previous Soviets had starred in their home country, joining NHL teams later in their careers. He moved to North America during the summer of 1990, turning professional with the Rangers' American Hockey League affiliate in Binghamton, but was soon summoned to join the parent club. As a rookie, he impressed, collecting 31 points in 49 NHL games during the 1992-93 season.
The 1993-94 season was magical for the Rangers. Their offence was a juggernaut, with Adam Graves potting 52 goals, joined by 20-goal campaigns from Mike Gartner (28), Mark Messier (26), Alexei Kovalev (23), Brian Leetch (23), Sergei Nemchinov (22) and Steve Larmer (21). Yet, it was Sergei Zubov who led the team with a jaw-dropping 89 points (12 goals and 77 assists) as the Rangers roared to a 112-point finish, first overall in the NHL. The Rangers powerplay succeeded 23% of the time, an incredible percentage, which accounted for a league-best 96 goals. That powerplay was led by the defence pair of Brian Leetch and Sergei Zubov. Zubov added 19 points in the playoffs as the New York Rangers captured the Stanley Cup, defeating the Vancouver Canucks in seven games to win their first Stanley Cup championship in 54 years. Zubov, along with teammates Alexander Karpovtsev, Alexei Kovalev and Sergei Nemchinov, became the first Russian-born and trained players to have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup.
In the August prior to the 1995-96 season, Zubov was dealt, along with Petr Nedved, to the Pittsburgh Penguins, with the Rangers receiving Luc Robitaille and Ulf Samuelsson in return. Sergei finished sixth in team scoring that season with 66 points, behind the powerhouse offence of forwards Mario Lemieux (161 points), Jaromir Jagr (149), Ron Francis (119), Petr Nedved (99) and Tomas Sandstrom (70).
His stay in Pittsburgh lasted but one year. As the Penguins wanted to get tougher on their blueline, Zubov was traded to the Dallas Stars for Kevin Hatcher before the start of the 1996-97 season.
Sergei played with the Stars for parts of 12 seasons, and while hockey fans were well aware of Sergei to that point, his time in Dallas really established him as one of the top defencemen of his era. He played in the NHL All-Star Games of 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2008.
The Stars finished first overall in 1998-99, winning the Presidents' Trophy. They battled through the post-season, eliminating Edmonton, St. Louis and Colorado before meeting the Buffalo Sabres in the Stanley Cup Final. It took an overtime goal in Game 7 before they won hockey's greatest prize, the first in franchise history (either as the Dallas Stars or in their previous incarnation as the Minnesota North Stars).
Zubov collected 71 points for the Stars during the 2005-06 season, his highest output in over a decade, largely due to Dallas's more defensive approach to the game. That season, he was selected for the NHL's Second All-Star Team, and was further recognized as a finalist for the Norris Trophy, awarded to the league's top defenceman.
A series of injuries forced Zubov to retire in April 2011. He had missed almost half of the 2007-08 season with a sports hernia injury, and most of the 2008-09 season with a hip injury. He finished his career having played 1,068 regular season games, scoring 152 goals and adding 619 assists for 771 points. In 164 playoff games, he added 24 goals and 93 assists for 117 points. He is the leading scorer among defencemen in the North Stars/Stars franchise history, and at the time of his retirement, was also the leading scorer among Russian defencemen in the NHL.
Besides the Olympic gold medal performance by the Unified Team in 1992, Zubov won gold in 1989 and silver in 1990 with the Soviet Union as a member of the World Juniors. He was also a member of the Russian World Championships squad in 1992 and the World Cup of Hockey team in 1996. Sergei was also selected as a reserve for Team Russia at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, but did not play.