Sergei Zubov a Hall of Famer and Forever a Ranger
Sergei Zubov only played 165 games for the Blueshirts, yet he’s a legend. 4B looks back at his career and what was possibly one of the worst trades in Neil Smith’s tenure as GM.
PICKING A GEM
Compensation picks. Other than the hardcore fan, who really keeps track of – or for that matter really cares – if a team receives one when losing a player to free agency? More often than not, these picks don’t usually pan out. In a lot of cases, these picks are often traded, used as commodities to obtain proven stars. Let me take you back to the summer of 1989. The Rangers are coming off a season where they had made the playoffs by virtue of finishing third in the Patrick Division. Their reward for doing so? A first round match-up with the upstart Pittsburgh Penguins led by “Super” Mario Lemieux.
The Penguins swept the Rangers in 4 games that post season but the two things that would leave an indelible imprint on the immediate future of the Rangers franchise was the debut of goalie Mike Richter in the playoffs & the play of hockey legend Guy Lafleur. Lafleur had come out of retirement for the 1988-89 season and played quite well. So well in fact, that when the season ended, several teams inquired about signing the unrestricted free agent. On July 14, 1989, the Quebec Nordiques did just that. As compensation for losing Lafleur, the Rangers received the Nords compensation pick – a 5th round pick (85th overall) which they used to select Moscow Russia native – Sergei Zubov.
Flash forward to 1994. Pop quiz. Who led the 1993-94 New York Rangers in scoring? Mark Messier? Not quite. Brian Leetch? No. Has to be Adam Graves since he netted 52 goals, right? Not even close! Steve Larmer? Even further off the mark! If you said Sergei Zubov, then pat yourself on the back. Surprisingly to some, Zubov led the Blueshirts in scoring during their magical Stanley Cup winning season by notching 12 goals and a team leading 77 assists for 89 points in 78 games. Messier was second with 85 points, Graves & Leetch each had 79 points while Larmer had 60. Zubov also added 19 points in the post season ( 5g, 14a) in 22 games (he missed one game due to a chest injury). This play enabled him to become one of first Russian born players to win the Stanley Cup joining teammates, Sergei Nemchinov, Alex Kovalev & Alexei Karpovstev for that honor.
I think it is fair to say that a lot of what the Rangers were able to accomplish during their memorable run in the spring of 1994 would not have been made possible without the play of Sergei Zubov. Everyone knows the names of Messier, Leetch, Graves, & Richter. However, one vital cog that other teams could not match was the play of Zubov. When the Rangers were on a power play, they had 2 quarterbacks on the point – Leetch & Zubov. On nights when the first unit wasn’t working, this luxury afforded head coach Mike Keenan to split them up into different units and still have a strong “2nd unit”. At even strength, the pairing of Zubov & veteran Kevin Lowe gave the Rangers a formidable 2nd pairing behind Leetch / Beukeboom.
MOVING A YOUNG STAR
It was a short lived pairing of the Rangers & Zubov though. After the championship season, head coach Mike Keenan departed and Colin Campbell became the new head coach. Campbell & Zubov had their issues and didn’t see eye to eye, especially on the defensive side of the puck. He further incurred the wrath of both Campbell & GM Neil Smith for electing to have wrist surgery early in the 1994-95 labor shortened season. After the 1994-95 season, Smith brokered a deal with the rival Penguins sending Zubov & Petr Nedved to Pittsburgh for veterans Ulf Samuelsson & Luc Robitaille.
It was a trade designed by Smith to give Messier one last run at the Cup. For Zubov, it was an opportunity to be the man on defense that he would not be in NY under the shadow of Brian Leetch. As it turned out this was not to be though as the styles of Lemieux & Zubov did not mesh. After one productive season in the “Burgh (11g, 55a in 68 games), Zubov was shipped off to the Dallas Stars for Kevin Hatcher. Zubov went on to have several productive seasons in Texas and helped the Stars win the Stanley Cup in 1999. He also was selected for 4 All Star games as a member of the Stars (1998, 1999, 2000 & 2008).
His time with the Rangers was short (165 regular season games, 32 post season) yet productive (32g, 126a regular season, 8g, 22a post season & a Stanley Cup). Yet Sergei Zubov will always have a place in the hearts and minds of Rangers fans for being an integral part of ending “the Curse”.
Zubov’s final regular season stats: 1068 GP, 152 G, 619 A, 771 PTS
Zubov’s final post-season stats: 164 GP, 24 G, 93 A, 117 PTS – 2 STANLEY CUPS
Editor’s Note: A majority of this article was written by Anthony Long