Friday, 31 July 2009

Eurasia: A Place For Defencemen

I'm surprised I missed this tidbit that flew under the radar since he was a noted enemy while suiting for the Philadelphia Flyers. With word that longtime stand-out defenceman Sergei Zubov had signed a deal with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL, an offensive defenceman comes back the other way as the Detroit Red Wings signed 32 year-old Andy Delmore after he spent the last two seasons with the Hamburg Freezers in the German Elite League. Both of these moves are a little surprising considering each player's circumstance.

First off, I have always been a Sergei Zubov fan. The man was a magician with the puck during his early days with the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins. During his time under Ken Hitchcock and Dave Tippett in Dallas, he became a much more rounded defenceman, playing larger roles defensively while still putting up decent point totals.

With age catching up to him, however, arthroscopic surgery on his hip at the start of the 2008-09 season limited Zubov to a mere ten games last season. While his vision and hands haven't left him, there were large question marks about his skating and mobility after the surgery. And those question marks were simply the reason why the Dallas Stars couldn't re-sign him at the $5.35 million per season deal he had the previous season. With Dallas in a youth movement, Zubov looked elsewhere.

The "elsewhere" that came about was a deal from SKA St. Petersburg in the KHL, marking the return of another Russian NHL star to the overseas league. While there have been no dollar figures announced, it is expected that Zubov's deal would be worth $1 million or more for the season. Zubov will make St. Petersburg's blueline immediately better if his hip is 100%.

Zubov was one of my favorite Russian defencemen of all-time, and I'm glad he found a home for this upcoming season to continue his work. I wish Zubov the best in St. Petersburg, and, of course, HBIC will keep an eye on the KHL standings all season long in 2009-10.

On the other hand, the man coming back to North America was a pretty big deal when he came out of the OHL. Andy Delmore recorded 18 goals and 60 assists in his final year with the Sarnia Sting in 1996-97, and looked like a promising talent. Except he went undrafted as there were questions about his defensive play.

After bouncing around the NHL and AHL, Delmore found a home with the Freezers over the last two seasons and showed some better defensive play. The Red Wings' scouts must see some potential ability as Delmore was inked to a one-year deal. It is expected that he'll challenge for the fourth defensive spot at best, and also see some time on the powerplay.

The reason I always disliked Delmore? 2000 NHL Playoffs, Game Three in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins. Andy Delmore scores the overtime winner to give the Flyers the 4-3 win. After Pittsburgh had won Games One and Two, the overtime loss completely shifted the series as the Flyers rallied to win the series 4-2.

Overall, though, Delmore is a decent player who just needed to improve the play within his own zone. Playing for a coach like Mike Babcock should help his game immensely, and he may earn himself another contract in the 2010-11 season if he works his butt off.

A couple of offensive defencemen going in opposite directions across the ocean. It's always interesting to see some of the names that are dug up in the off-season. Zubov leaves as one of the best Russian blueliners of all-time, and Andy Delmore gets a second/third/whatever chance with the Red Wings.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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