Even with Zubov's injury, Stars not looking to make a deal

12/18/2008 - NHL Sergei Zubov Dallas Stars + more

You know that old chestnut about how if it's not raining, it's pouring? Well, the Dallas Stars have skipped over pouring and gone straight to deluge.

Top defenseman Sergei Zubov will have hip surgery in January and is out indefinitely.

Now, the Stars will have to soldier on without two of their top players -- Zubov and captain Brenden Morrow, who is out for the season with a knee injury -- for the foreseeable future.

Two things to consider for the Stars, who crawled out of the Western Conference basement with an overtime win over Phoenix on Tuesday and face another team ahead of them in the standings, Columbus, on Thursday night.

Who Will Step Up?

It's one thing to say you're going to look for answers from within; it's another to find them there.

The Stars will be looking for Loui Eriksson to continue his strong play. He already has matched his career best with 14 goals and is a solid top-six forward whose 22 points have him tied for second on the team in scoring.

Highly touted rookie Fabian Brunnstrom will get more opportunities now that Sean Avery is gone and his comfort with the North American game has grown. "Since Avery's left, he's taken a bigger piece of the game," Stars co-GM Les Jackson said.

Brunnstrom, of Sweden, had never played on North American ice before this season and was expected to be eased into the Stars' lineup. But the fact that the Stars got off to a miserable start made it hard to give Brunnstrom teaching time during games.

However, the 6-foot-2, 203-pound winger has nine goals and has points in four of his past seven games heading into Thursday's clash with Columbus.

"Now I think he's feeling good about himself," Jackson said.

-- Scott Burnside

First, what then of Zubov?

It's hard to imagine a better player about whom so little is said or written. When he is healthy, he remains one of the top five defensemen in the game. But there's the rub. The 38-year-old, who is the highest-scoring Russian defenseman in the history of the NHL, missed half of last season with injury. He had surgery on his hip in Germany late in the regular season and returned, almost miraculously, for the playoffs, playing in 11 of 18 games.

He missed the first 12 games of this regular season recovering from more hip surgery done at the start of training camp, and it was believed he would be good to go. He wasn't.
He played in just 10 games before going on injured reserve.

Now that he's opted for surgery, the belief is he'll miss this season but should be able to return to action in 2009-10. However, it sets up an interesting dynamic for both the player and the team.

Zubov, who can become an unrestricted free agent this summer, makes $5.35 million this season. The Stars won't be able to commit that kind of salary to a player whose durability is in question. Would Zubov, who has been in Dallas for a decade and helped win a Stanley Cup, take less than market value to stay?

That will be a major factor in the continued relationship between the classy defenseman and the Stars.

In the short term, Zubov's absence, coupled with the long-term absence of Morrow and the departure of troubled forward Sean Avery, suggests the Stars will be looking to go shopping between now and the March 4 trade deadline.

Not so, said co-GM Les Jackson.

The Stars' plan of action -- at least at this point in time -- is to look for answers from within.

There are a couple of reasons for that.

First, the team's disastrous Avery experiment is still fresh in the minds of ownership and management.

Craig Button, a national broadcast analyst and former GM in Calgary, recalled a conversation with owner Tom Hicks that took place when Button worked for the Stars. Hicks told his hockey people that a million dollars well spent was a good investment but a dollar misspent was a waste.

Avery's misspent four-year, $15.5 million contract is a strong cautionary story for the Stars when it comes to getting through the rest of the season, and beyond.

And if there is a certain gun-shy factor after the Avery signing, there also is the big picture to consider.

"We're learning a lot of lessons this year," Jackson said. "We have to manage our money; we have to manage our personnel."

The Stars have worked hard to develop quality depth in their system. If Jackson and co-GM Brett Hull start beating the bushes to bring in another defenseman or forward, what message will it send to the rest of the organization?

Jackson acknowledged it's hard to resist the temptation to go shopping. There is room, at least in theory, with Morrow's and Zubov's salaries off the books, at least in terms of cap space. Depending on what happens with Avery, there could be even more room.

"It's hard to say no to other teams because you want to be competitive," Jackson said.

You want to reward fans with a good product. You want to reward ownership for its support.

"But all it is is a short-term fix. You're better off to fix it internally," Jackson said.

Even if older or higher-priced players were available to bring more skill to the mix, their connection to the franchise would be different than that of a young player who's been drafted and developed by the Stars. So it is a crucial balancing act in terms of philosophy and economics.

Homegrown talent "have an ownership feeling about what you have and where you're going," Jackson said.

There also is the issue of avoiding a knee-jerk reaction, even in the face of an injury situation that is dire, with six or seven regulars out of the lineup for various parts of the first half of the season.

"I think in some ways, we did that [signing Avery] in July and that didn't work," Jackson said. "It's really not been pretty right now, but we're going to get through it."

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.