NHL: Nine Great Players on Bad Teams

Ryan DavenportContributor ISeptember 8, 2012

NHL: Nine Great Players on Bad Teams

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    For hockey fans across the globe, there's nothing more frustrating than seeing a top-flight NHL player unable to reach his potential due to an apparent lack of talent around him.

    Sure, it's always nice to see a star forward emerge despite skating alongside mediocre line-mates or a goaltender stake his place among the game's elite without a reputable defense corps, but one always has to wonder how dominant they'd be with serviceable complimentary pieces around them. 

    Throughout NHL history, there have been a long list of guys who have authored Hall of Fame-calibre without having talented teammates, such as Dale Hawerchuk, Mats Sundin and, more recently, Jarome Iginla. 

    Some, like two-time Hart Trophy winner Dominik Hasek, did end up playing for Stanley Cup contenders by the end of their careers, but his best years obviously came as a member of the cash-strapped Buffalo Sabres. 

    With that in mind, here's a look at nine current NHL greats playing for bad teams. 

John Tavares, New York Islanders

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    Since entering the league as the No. 1 overall selection of the 2009 NHL Draft, John Tavares has been faced with the daunting task of returning a moribund franchise to the glory days of the early 1980s. 

    Three seasons in, he hasn't disappointed. 

    No, Tavares hasn't been able to lift the New York Islanders to a postseason berth, but he has been among the league's most dynamic offensive players, and the 21-year-old prodigy has cemented his status as the team's franchise player. 

    After tallying 24 goals and 54 points as a rookie, Tavares has increased his offensive totals in each of his three seasons, highlighted by a 31-goal, 81-point campaign in 2011-12. 

    Though those numbers are obviously impressive, what's been even more encouraging about Tavares' play has been his ability to bring the best out of those around him, as evidenced by Matt Moulson's trio of 30-goal seasons skating alongside the former London Knights legend. 

    He may have to wait another couple of seasons to make his postseason debut, but there's no questioning Tavares' place among the most exciting young forwards in the game. 

Jack Johnson, Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Jack Johnson can feel Rick Nash's pain. 

    After the Columbus Blue Jackets dealt Nash in July, Johnson inherited the less-than-desirable title of best player on arguably the league's most tortured franchise. 

    To make matters worse, Johnson was forced to watch as his former teammates in Los Angeles claimed the Stanley Cup less than four months after the Kings traded Johnson and a first rounder in exchange for disgruntled sniper Jeff Carter. 

    Now Johnson is expected to be a franchise cornerstone in Columbus and is the centerpiece of the Jackets' rebuild. 

    It may be a while before he sees the postseason again, but the 2010 US Olympian will likely be named Columbus' next captain, whenever the NHL resumes play. 

Carey Price, Montreal Canadiens

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    Carey Price isn't the only standout on the Montreal Canadiens' roster, but he is without a doubt the team's most important player. 

    Price, a three-time All-Star at the ripe young age of 25, has been under the microscope constantly since entering the league in 2007-08, and for the most part, the big British Columbia native has been stellar in between the pipes for the league's most storied franchise. 

    Remember back in 2010, when there were some who believed the Canadiens should've kept 2010 Playoff hero Jaroslav Halak over Price?

    The answer to that debate couldn't be more clear now, as Price has emerged as Montreal's goaltender of the present and future, and the team's chances at returning to the postseason in 2013 clearly depend on whether or not the team in front of him can improve, because Price has been doing all he can in the league's biggest pressure-cooker of an environment. 

Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars

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    Though the Dallas Stars were in the mix for one of the final postseason berths in the Western Conference until the final days of the 2011-12 season, the team doesn't appear to be much stronger heading into 2012-13. 

    Part of why the team was in contention at all was the play of 23-year-old Jamie Benn, who posted career-bests of 26 goals and 63 points, despite missing 11 games due to injury. 

    Benn does have help up front in Loui Eriksson, Michael Ryder and the additions of aging stars Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr, but the skilled playmaker is clearly the Stars' franchise player going forward. 

    Not only does Benn pile up points for a team that isn't exactly blessed with offensive dynamos, he often does so in highlight-reel fashion and has quickly made a name for himself as one of the game's top young offensive talents. 

Jarome Iginla, Calgary Flames

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    For the past seven seasons, it's been a familiar story in Calgary, as the Flames have repeatedly failed to advance beyond the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs since the team's Cinderella run to the Finals in 2003-04.

    What's been even more frustrating for Flames fans is that the team has been unwilling to enter a rebuilding stage, and has missed the postseason completely in each of the last three seasons with a roster stocked with aging complimentary players thrust into leading roles. 

    Despite all this, captain Jarome Iginla has consistently been one of the top power forwards in the game, posting at least 30 goals in each of the last 11 seasons, though he's rarely had top-flight line-mates during that span. 

    Now, at 35, Iginla is entering the twilight years of his career, and unless something drastic happens in Cowtown, there's a very real possibility that he'll end his career without reaching the postseason again. 

    It's a shame too, because Iginla has been a clutch performer when given the opportunity, as evidenced by his 13-goal performance in the 2004 Playoffs and five-goal showing during Canada's Gold Medal-winning run at the 2010 Olympics. 

    With over 500 goals and 1000 points, Iginla is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he'll almost undoubtedly go down as one of the best players without a Stanley Cup win. 

Phil Kessel, Toronto Maple Leafs

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    When the Toronto Maple Leafs dealt two first rounders and a second round selection in exchange for then-Bruins sniper Phil Kessel, there were great things expected of the speedy Wisconsin native. 

    So far, the gamble has paid off, as the 24-year-old has notched at least 30 goals in each of his three years in Toronto, highlighted by an 82-point performance in 2011-12, good for sixth among all NHL scorers.

    Despite Kessel's heroics, the Leafs have been unable to reach the postseason, and though he's got a reasonable amount of talent around him in All-Stars Joffrey Lupul and Dion Phaneuf, Kessel is easily the team's most dangerous offensive threat. 

    Unless James Reimer plays like Turk Broda in 2012-13, the Leafs will likely end up watching 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs on television, even if Kessel hits the 40-goal plateau for the first time in his young career.

Dustin Byfuglien, Winnipeg Jets

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    Since Dustin Byfuglien helped the Chicago Blackhawks to the 2010 Stanley Cup by notching 11 postseason goals, the lovable forward-turned-offensive defenseman has become a star for the Winnipeg Jets. 

    A powerful presence down low with the Blackhawks in 2010, Byfuglien was dealt the following summer, and in two short years, he's established himself as one of the game's elite blue-liners with two consecutive seasons with at least 50 points. 

    Now a two-time All-Star, Byfuglien and fellow All-Star Tobias Enstrom will be expected to anchor the Jets' defense corps for the next decade. 

    Unfortunately, unless the Jets' talent up front improves, it may be a while before hockey fans will be again treated to Byfuglien's postseason heroics. 

    He's certainly not the only standout player on the Jets, but at this point, he's the brightest star on a team that still seems to be in search of its identity. 

Max Pacioretty, Montreal Canadiens

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    Though Max Pacioretty is coming off his first full season in the NHL, the 23-year-old Connecticut native has made quite an impression on a weak Montreal Canadiens team in 2011-12, as he lead the team with 65 points. 

    Teaming up with fellow American Erik Cole and David Desharniers, Pacioretty hit the 30-goal plateau, and displayed the level of speed and talent that made him one of the most highly touted Habs prospects in years. 

    Despite Pacioretty's breakout performance, the Canadiens struggled mightily in 2011-12, and unless the team gets much better performances out of its highly paid veterans like Brian Gionta, Rene Bourque and Scott Gomez, and a bounce-back year from PK Subban, his contributions might not be enough to get Montreal back into a Playoff spot next spring. 

    Assuming Desharniers, Cole and Pacioretty stay together, the three should be a dangerous trio once again in 2012-13, and Pacioretty could soon be the co-face of the franchise along with All-Star goaltender Carey Price. 

Matt Duchene, Colorado Avalanche

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    When the Colorado Avalanche used the No. 3 overall selection in the 2009 NHL Draft on speedy center Matt Duchene, the team's brass hoped he would blossom into a franchise player. That being said, the Avs couldn't possibly have imagined that the baby-faced playmaker would be a 55-point man right away.

    Not only did Duchene put up big numbers, he lead the Avalanche to the postseason after the team finished dead last in the Northwest Division the season before. 

    In 2010-11, Duchene continued to improve, notching 67 points to lead Colorado in scoring at just 20 years of age. 

    Though the 2011-12 campaign saw the young star miss 24 games due to injury, with Duchene, Erik Johnson and reigning Calder Trophy winner Gabriel Landeskog in the fold, the future is bright in Denver.