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Hockey Hall of Fame

Sergei Zubov Belongs in the Hall of Fame

For years, Dallas Stars fans have been arguing that Sergei Zubov belongs in the Hall of Fame. They're right.

by Dave Lozo
Nov 17 2016, 6:19pm

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The problem with the Internet is all the people on it. You say you like something universally accepted as wonderful — pizza — and there are people who will tell you pizza is bad or that steak is better or they can't eat gluten so you shouldn't say something so insensitive. The topic doesn't matter. There are people who will offer alternatives to what is very clearly a great thing.

This is especially a problem in hockey when it comes to the Hall of Fame. More than any other sport, hockey fans care about their favorite teams and very little about anything else. So if you were to write that a universally accepted wonderful player like Teemu Selanne should go into the Hall of Fame, there are people from all across the world that will tell you why someone else should be there too.

One name that has come up for years is Sergei Zubov—a name I've ignored for years. Yeah, he's good, but when the love for Zubov is constantly flowing from Twitter accounts with Dallas Stars logos as their avatars, you tune it out.

Read More: The NHL Doubles Down on Ignoring Its Stars

But here's the thing: Zubov should be in Hall of Fame.

Based on criteria used to induct others, there's no area where Zubov falls short. The evidence is so overwhelming that I feel a little like Sarah Koenig when she got the Adnan Syed files. Why isn't this a bigger story? Where's the outrage over this injustice? And how is Jay involved?

Let's look at Zubov's merits and entertain the argument against his induction.

This looks like a Hall of Famer to me. Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Points

People never want to judge defensemen by points unless it's time to vote on the Norris Trophy, and then voters go right down the list of leading scorers among defensemen...unless it's the past year, which we won't get into now.

Zubov's first and last seasons were the only ones where he wasn't a full-time player. If we take the 13 seasons in the middle from 1993-94 to 2007-08, he had 701 points in 963 games. Only one defenseman — Nicklas Lidstrom with 767 — had more points than Zubov over that time period. Only three defensemen — Lidstrom, Brian Leetch and Al MacInnis — played at least 10 seasons over that time frame and averaged more points per game than Zubov.

Zubov played through the heart of the dead puck era and was a point-producing machine from the back end when there were few as good as him. His career overlapped with that of Scott Niedermayer, who had 31 fewer points despite playing nearly 200 more games. Based on the narrative created over Niedermayer's career, however, there's this accepted notion he could have been Bobby Orr if not having played in the stifling New Jersey Devils' system for his prime years. Zubov never benefited from an equally positive fictional yet plausible situation.

Imagine having similar credentials to Niedermayer and trailing only Lidstrom in points and having people think you're not worthy of the Hall of Fame. It's like there's this bubble around Zubov's career and no one has the proper microscope for examining it. "Sorry, but you weren't quite as good as maybe the best defenseman to ever play the game" shouldn't be something that bars you from enshrinement.

You can't even hang the "compiler" label on Zubov; he had 71 points in 78 games as a 35-year-old, 54 points in 78 games as a 36-year-old, 35 points in 46 games as a 37-year-old, then his body gave out the following season and that was that. He was still playing 26 minutes a game at the end of his career.

From 1992-93 — Zubov's rookie season — until now, only Lidstrom and Sergei Gonchar have produced more career points as a defenseman than Zubov. Lidstrom played 400 more games than Zubov and Gonchar needed 233 more games to finish with 40 more points than Zubov.

Zubov is the second-most productive defenseman of the past three decades and he's sitting at home watching Rogie freaking Vachon get inducted after three decades of eligibility. This is insane, right?

Maybe the problem with Zubov is his postseason resume. People love to kill players in all sports for being chokers that can't win the big one in the playoffs, so that must be it, right?

Playoffs

Zubov has won two Stanley Cups! And not only does he have two Stanley Cups, he won them with franchises that hadn't won one in 54 years (New York Rangers) and ever in its history (Dallas Stars) and haven't won one since. Much like Leroy Jethro Gibbs of NCIS, I don't believe in coincidences.

Yeah, I watch NCIS. I'm 74 years old. I don't care what you think.

Sure, his teams won championships, but maybe Zubov was getting lugged around the ice by Brian Leetch in New York and Stephane Robidas in Dallas. Maybe Zubov was trembling in fear and urinating in the corner while Mark Messier and Mike Modano saved the day for the pee-soaked Russian.

Remember earlier when we talked about the nearly unrivaled productivity of Zubov in the regular season? He averaged 0.72 points per game over his career in the regular season; in the postseason, he averaged 0.71 points per game! Which is lower! I was hoping that number would be higher and help make my point stronger, but based on the math, he was equally productive when the competition was greater. So my point is still a great one!

Where does Zubov rank with his contemporaries in postseason scoring? During the duration of his career, only Lidstrom had more postseason points among defenseman. So, again, you can make a case that the only defenseman better than Zubov was the guy who earned the nickname The Perfect Human. The only person who has lived with more unfair expectations than Zubov is Robert Sean Leonard's character in Dead Poets Society.

So Zubov provided consistent greatness in both the regular season and the postseason. But maybe that trophy room isn't what it could be.

Hardware

OK, so I don't have a smart-ass answer where I talk about Zubov's three Norris Trophies. Here's the problem — Zubov doesn't really have any regular-season accolades. He was a Norris Trophy finalist once. He went to four All-Star Games. He was a second-team All-Star in 2006.

And that's it.

The argument then becomes, "Why would a player that was only considered one of the three best players at his position in a given year once deserve to be considered one of the best players in the history of the game?"

Here's why: you know who votes on trophies? You know who decides on the Norris Trophy?

Me! People like me! Members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, the same body that thought Drew Doughty was a better defenseman than Erik Karlsson last season are the ones that said Zubov wasn't a top-three defenseman more than once in his career. How can you trust people like me to influence your decision based on our historical voting records? I can barely prepare my own dinner without spilling sauce inside the stove and you want to base massive decisions on legacies based on things people like me thought about hockey 20 years ago? We barely figured out Corsi when Zubov's career was ending! Who cares what people thought about Zubov's game 20 years ago?

In 1996, Zubov had 11 goals and 66 points in 64 games and finished 12th in voting. TWELFTH. He finished in a tie with Mark Tinordi, who had three goals and 13 points in 71 games that season. Admittedly, I don't remember what intangibles Tinordi brought to the ice that season, but they must have been incredible if human beings thought he was just as good Zubov. Like, yeah, Zubov was better than a point per game, but Tinordi performed emergency open-heart surgery on teammates during 22 games that season?

So I implore you, dear voters I have just spent the past 1,300 words deriding, to look into your hearts and brains to see Zubov for what he was — the best defenseman in the NHL during his career not named Lidstrom or Niedermayer. Don't dismiss him now just because you dismissed him during his playing career. Listen to me, American voters — do not screw up an election for a second year in a row.

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