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WINNIPEG, Manitoba — No Dallas Star ever wore No. 56 before Sergei Zubov. Now, no Dallas Star will ever wear No. 56 after Zubov.
On Monday morning, the Stars announced the franchise will retire Zubov’s number next season, making him the sixth number to hang in the rafters at the American Airlines Center. Zubov played the final 12 seasons of his career in Dallas and was a key member of the 1998-99 Stanley Cup championship team.
Zubov finished his career as the franchise’s all-time leader among defensemen in games played, goals, assists, points, plus-minus, power-play goals, game-winning goals, shots on goal and time on ice. He will be the first defenseman in franchise history to have his number retired.
Zubov will also be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 18 in Toronto, one of two former Stars who will be enshrined.
“There was nothing easier than making this decision,” Stars CEO Jim Lites said. “It’s simple enough.”
Zubov joins Neal Broten (No. 7), Bill Goldsworthy (No. 8), Mike Modano (No. 9), Bill Masterton (No. 19) and Jere Lehtinen (No. 26) as the only retired numbers in Stars franchise history. Zubov is the third member of the Cup-winning team to have his number retired, joining Modano (ceremony in March 2014) and Lehtinen (ceremony in November 2017).
Lites said the franchise always intended to retire Zubov’s number, but waited to give him the proper time and circumstances to be recognized.
“And then with Zubie getting inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame, it seemed kind of crazy that we hadn’t done it yet,” Lites said. “Once that happened, we said ‘We’ve got to do this right away,’ because Zubie should be honored effectively with our team as well as internationally.”
The Stars are expected to pick a date for the ceremony when next season’s schedule is released in June.
Zubov was not only the best defensemen in franchise history, but also one of the league’s best of all time despite never winning a Norris Trophy. No Russian defenseman has more NHL assists than Zubov. Among all defensemen, Zubov ranked 19th in league history in points and 16th in assists. Of the 15 players in front of him, only one (Gary Suter) is not in the Hall of Fame.
“He was always a really dynamic offensive player, but over the years, he just became this consummate professional, did things the right way, became a great defender, penalty killer,” Lites said. “He wasn’t a heavy player, but he was always in the right spot, never in the wrong spot.”
Zubov was a wizard on the power play, piloting three different teams (Rangers in 1993-94, Penguins in 1995-96 and Stars in 1997-98) that finished the season with the best power play in the league. In those three seasons, Zubov had 98 combined assists on the power play alone.
The Stars acquired Zubov in one of the best trades in franchise history, sending Kevin Hatcher to Pittsburgh at the 1996 draft for Zubov. The trade was one for one. Hatcher played five more seasons in the league for three different teams, while a 26-year-old Zubov began his decade of dominance in Dallas.
“We were worried he didn’t want to come and we had heard that, that he wanted to go back to New York and he was pretty Russian, he enjoyed the Russian community in New York City,” Lites said. “When we acquired him in ’96, I remember Bob Gainey worked really hard to get Sergei comfortable about coming to Dallas. We were a relatively new market at the time.”
Zubov is back with the organization, helping general manager Jim Nill in a consulting role. He watched last week’s win over Colorado in the Stars’ management suite and attended the team’s practice two days later with Nill. Zubov was available after he was let go by HC Sochi in the KHL in October.
“Whatever role that Jim and Sergei work out that’s right for Sergei and for the team is great by us,” Lites said. “I think he’s terrific. Sees the game, understands it, relates well to players. With our really significant young defensemen, Sergei is going to be great for John Klingberg, great for Miro Heiskanen, great for Esa Lindell and hopefully Thomas Harley. He can grow with the team and help us in an area that’s really significant.”
Whatever comes of Zubov’s career in management, his playing career will be immortalized at American Airlines Center.