Dallas Stars president Jim Lites has done a lot of good for the franchise. Usually I tend to agree with pretty much everything he says, but a quote he offered recently has me scratching my head. From his recent “Ask the President” event via the Stars website the topic of the possible retirement of more jerseys arose and Lites said, “Nobody appreciates really the hard work that Sergei Zubov and Jere Lehtinen have done for this franchise. My own feeling is that we’re absolutely going to consider it.”
Nobody appreciates them? Um, what?
I know that Mike Modano is the most visible player in Stars history, and most of us loved Ed Belfour’s flare, but of the people I speak with that have any basic knowledge of the history of the Stars, pretty much every single one of them have nothing but respect for Zubov and Lehtinen. Due to that, I’m not sure what exactly Lites meant by that statement.
Personally, Lehtinen is one of the players I respect the most and tried my best to emulate, not just on the ice, but off it as well. Longtime Stars fans have heard Ralph Strangis mention time and again that Lehtinen was the ultimate professional. He showed up to work every day, worked his tail off and never complained. On the ice he did everything. He would play in the corners, doing the dirty work that allowed Modano, Brett Hull or whomever he skated with the ability to get to the open areas with a scoring chance. He killed penalties, played the power play, and he could score. Don’t forget Lehtinen is a member of the NHL’s 500 point club (243 goals, 271 assists, 514 points). He was responsible defensively, evidenced by only one season with a negative plus minus line and a career +176, not to mention his three Selke Trophies.
As far as Zubov is concerned, he hasn’t played for over five seasons now, and at pretty much every game you will hear fans mention him regularly. Whenever a defender shows some offensive flash you hear about how he looked like Zubie on that one. When those defensemen miscue, “Zubov wouldn’t have done that, or would have done this instead.” His jersey is seen around the American Airlines Center at every single home game multiple times. Five seasons without his presence on the blue line, management is still searching for his replacement. They’ve tried with Philip Larsen, Matt Niskanen and Alex Goligoski, but it is unlikely any will measure up to Zubov. Players of his caliber just don’t come along that often. His poise and offensive sense got all the attention, but Zubov was severely underappreciated for his defensive work.
Simply put, Dallas isn’t an elite franchise near the end of the century and most certainly doesn’t win the 1999 Stanley Cup without either of these players. In my opinion, both of their jerseys should be hanging in the AAC rafters right next to Modano, Neal Broten, Bill Masterson and Bill Goldsworthy. If you disagree, I’d love to hear your reasons against it. Whether or not Lites knows it, I respect and appreciate everything these two have done for this franchise, and I’m sure that there are tons of Stars fans out there who agree with that sentiment.
As always, I welcome your comments. Thanks for reading and go Stars!