Eric Staal and the 10 Truly Most Valuable NHL Forwards to Their Teams

Christopher OngContributor IIISeptember 13, 2011

Eric Staal and the 10 Truly Most Valuable NHL Forwards to Their Teams

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    Today, the emphasis on numbers and statistics has become so prevalent that even trophies have lost their true meanings.

    The Hart Trophy is supposed to be awarded to the NHL player who is most valuable to his team.

    But two years ago, it was given to a player who not only has a clone on his team who can put up similar point numbers, but also to a player on a team who was among the most talented even without him.

    Not to take anything away from Henrik Sedin, as he had an outstanding season, but a huge part of the reason why he won this award was because he finished first in scoring.

    On this list, you will not find players who are not necessarily in the top 10 on the scoring list, but rather forwards whom their respective teams would suffer a significant setback without them.

    For this reason, you will not see Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby on this list. Despite being franchise icons and perennial superstars, both of their clubs have shown they can still produce top-notch offense even with their absence.

    For the very same reason, you will not see any Detroit Red Wings on this list because of the fact that they have a number of all-around superstar forwards whose absences can be replaced by one another. 

    Each forward on this list brings some sort of intangible or superior aspect to their teams' respective situations, and there would be a major void to fill in their absence.

10. Tim Connolly

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    Many of you may think I'm crazy and will be ready to stop reading at this point because this may be the first and only time you ever see Tim Connolly on a top 10 MVP list.

    However, he is No. 10 for the simple fact that he plays on the Toronto Maple Leafs, and he has near a point per game potential.

    For many years now, Toronto has not had a legitimate first line, and Connolly is the probably the closest thing to a first-line center since the departure of Mats Sundin.

    Connolly's playmaking ability will contribute a significant improvement to the Leafs' offense, and he might be able to spark some chemistry with goal-scorer Phil Kessel. Kessel has shown in the past that he benefits greatly from a good playmaker.

    If Connolly stays healthy this season, the Leafs could be somewhat of an offensive threat based on talent, something they haven't been able to boast about for years.

9. John Tavares

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    Selected first overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, John Tavares is the future of the New York Islanders' franchise.

    Yes, the Islanders have some significant young talent and great prospects, but JT is the foundation of this team's rebuilding process. 

    Expect him to have a breakout season this year, and if New York makes any progress anytime in the near future, he would be a huge reason for their success. 

8. Martin St. Louis

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    Martin St. Louis is on an already offensively-stacked team, so I figure I'd get these out of the way.

    The reason St. Louis is on this list is because of his ability to consistently set up his linemates and create goal-scoring beasts in them. The main reason Steve Stamkos and Vincent Lecavalier have managed to reach the 50-goal mark in their careers so far is because of this man.

    St. Louis is also a great leader who takes very few penalty minutes and is also a fantastic playoff performer.

    It is fair to argue that the Lighting's success on offense would be nowhere near what it has been over the past seven years or so without Martin St. Louis. In essence, St. Louis is the cause and effect of the highly talked-about Lightning offense.

7. Ryan Kesler

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    The Vancouver Canucks are arguably the most offensively gifted team in the league and can probably find ways to score easier than any other team when missing star players, but the most recent playoffs just reinforced the fact that pure talent alone is simply not enough.

    Even on one leg, Ryan Kesler brought an element of intensity that no other skilled Canucks forward could during the Stanley Cup Finals versus the Bruins this year. He is also a great leader and one of the best two-way players in the league. In his versatility, Kesler has displayed his ability to be an elite playmaker, as well as a lamp-lighting sniper.

    Kesler is on this list because of the intangibles he brings forth, along with his superb offensive prowess. He is a rare combination of heart and grit, defense and offensive talent.

    More importantly, Kesler is on this list because of the fact that he is the only forward on his team who holds a mixture of assets.

    If he were on a team like the Red Wings or Bruins, for example, he would not be on this list, but because Kesler is on a team that has an overemphasis on talent and lacks in these intangible aspects of building a complete championship team, Vancouver needs a guy like him since they are still in their window of championship opportunity.

6. Jason Spezza

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    The Senators are in need of a major makeover, and they are well aware of it. With an aging Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza is the only remaining guy on the team who can still put up point per game numbers.

    If Spezza is to remain with the Senators over the next few years, he will be a crucial ingredient for the rebuilding process, as it is highly likely that he will be the captain and commander.

    It will be a long and grueling journey in the nation's capital, but Spezza would be the one to hold the team together and continue to be the main offensive threat on this team.

5. Shane Doan

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    In the case of the Phoenix Coyotes, Shane Doan is the true definition of a franchise player.

    Doan may not be the most talented player in the league, but even being a more grit-focused leader, he has still probably been the most talented player for the Coyotes for more than a decade.

    Without Doan, I don't know how I would even begin to describe the Coyotes.

    With the departure of goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, Doan will easily be the most valuable player to his team in this upcoming season, and if it weren't for Phoenix never making it out of the first round, Doan would probably be higher on this list.

4. Eric Staal

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    There is no doubt that Eric Staal is the man in Raleigh.

    The Hurricanes are looking like a very young and promising team again, and it will start and end with the 27-year-old superstar center who looks to be the face of the franchise right now and for many years to come.

    Unlike Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin, who are clearly both franchise players as well, Staal has a lot less to work with at this point, and he will be carrying a larger part of the weight for this young squad. The team's development will depend on his ability to lead. Similar to Jason Spezza, he is a player who should be approaching his prime, but is already seen by the rest of his team as a role model veteran.

    Staal's presence, leadership and overall elite hockey sense and skill, makes those around him better players. Without Staal, Carolina would be exactly what their team name suggests—a chaotic mess with no particular direction.

3. Dany Heatley

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    Dany Heatley may not be a leader or a heart-and-soul player in the eyes of many, and despite having a rough 2010-2011 campaign, there is no doubt he is the only player on the Minnesota Wild who can actually be considered an elite goal-scorer right now.

    Heatley will be the most recognized sniper on this franchise since Marian Gaborik's departure.

    Apart from Guillame Latendresse and maybe newly-acquired Devin Setoguchi, there is no one on this Wild team who can really be depended on to score. Heatley may be the answer to getting them out of the bottom six in goal-scoring this upcoming season. 

    Heatley was certainly not of MVP value to any of his previous teams, as he has always had elite linemates with equivalent talent, but with Minny, he will be solely depended upon more than ever in his career.

2. Jarome Iginla

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    Despite swirling rumors about Jarome Iginla not being a Calgary Flame for much longer, he is arguably the most iconic player in franchise history.

    In the past decade, no one has ever been relied upon as heavily and as consistently by their team as Iggy.

    He is definitely getting older from here on, but if he remains with Calgary, expect him to continue to be the best player on the team for many years more.

    In regards to forwards, Iginla is the only constant on the Flames' roster, and without him, many would argue that the Flames do not stand a chance to compete.

1. Rick Nash

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    Rick Nash may not have the Hart Trophy-like numbers at this point in his career, and it is probably due to the fact that he simply does not have adequate support, but there is no doubt he is the undisputed icon of the Columbus Blue Jackets' franchise.

    No one in the team's history even comes near him. 

    Nash has had the worst supporting cast for nearly a decade now, and the team's offense has consisted mainly of him and him alone. Nash has been criticized for not passing enough, but the reality has been that in order for Columbus to score goals, Nash had to take matters into his own hands for the most part. 

    Playing alongside Jeff Carter and possibly Vaclav Prospal this upcoming season, perhaps we will all get to see what this young phenom is fully capable of.