The NHL is a big business that sells a simple product. The league makes millions off promoting a game in which players skate at an incredibly fast pace, show off their skills with a stick and a puck and occasionally, hit the snot out of each other. After they promote the game itself, the NHL also gets big money off merchandise licensing, ad revenues and other league revenues that are easiest to profit from if the NHL has one thing going for them — that one thing being popular players.
One of the easiest ways to market a product that will sell is to have fans fall in love with the players who play the game. That's why, when you see a Connor McDavid come to the Edmonton Oilers, jerseys with McDavid's name on the back sell out in an instant. When Sidney Crosby is coming to your town, you'll see Crosby jerseys in the crowd. The fans love the players and the players sell the game.
But, does the promotion of certain players for a franchise mean that said player is the most valuable to the team? Not really. In fact, for every McDavid or Crosby, there are many players who don't get much attention but are more impactful when it comes to their team's success. That means, if you take the stance that each team or the league should be promoting players who produce the most or offer the most value on the ice for each franchise, you could argue, the teams and the NHL are promoting the wrong guys.
Below is a list of 20 teams where this is perhaps the case. It's understood they'll be debate and many readers won't agree with who is the most valuable from each team, but an argument can be made for each of the 20 teams listed. Is it clear cut? Perhaps not. But can it be debated? Well, read on and see what you think.
20 Chicago Blackhawks – Patrick Kane/Jonathan Toews
Patrick Kane is easily Chicago's most offensive weapon and Jonathan Toews is easily the leader, but, are either more valuable to the Chicago Blackhawks than Duncan Keith? Perhaps not. Yet, when you think about the Blackhawks, almost everyone inevitably looks at it as the Kane and Toews show. Perhaps that's because they make over 25% of the team's salary.
Meanwhile, Duncan Keith logged an average of over 25 minutes per game this past season. He's making a very reasonable $5.5 million per season (almost half of what Kane and Toews are making each), hasn't scored less than 34 points in a season from the blue line and he's been a two-times winner of the Norris Trophy, Conn Smythe Winner and six-time All-Star. Chicago is blessed with a ton of great talent, but it can be argued Duncan Keith is their best player by a mile.
19 Washington Capitals – Alex Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin is dynamic. It can be argued that nobody scores goals like he does and the NHL hasn't seen this consistent a threat to pot a goal at any time in over a decade. That said, an argument can be made that he's not Washington's best player — Nicklas Backstrom is. The past three seasons, Backstrom and Ovechkin have been Washington's top threats on any given night, but in 2016-17, Backstrom was heads and tails better. So much so that Washington has begun to wonder if their issues getting far into the playoffs show a lack of leadership by Ovechkin. Is Ovechkin on the trade block? Some people think so.
Backstrom is making a fraction of what Ovechkin is and the play runs through him. Ovechkin doesn't score nearly as much as he does if not for his center and at two years Ovechkin's younger, Backstrom is more the future for the Capitals than Ovechkin is.
18 Tampa Bay Lightning – Steven Stamkos
Despite massive injury concerns, Steven Stamkos is still the face of the Lightning organization. He's on billboards, in commercials and represents the Lightning in almost every major way. Should he be?
Victor Hedman averages almost 25 minutes per game and has for years. In 2016-17 Hedman scored 72 points in 79 games making him an easy candidate for the Norris Trophy. He is the backbone of the team and if not in the lineup, is a massive loss for the organization. Fortunately, he's been a much healthier player than Stamkos and while that's not Stamkos' fault, the face of the organization should be Hedman. An argument could be made for Kucherov, but Hedman is the more reliable of the two players and a stud that the organization will never let go of.
17 San Jose – Joe Thornton
For years, the San Jose Sharks have belonged to the man with the beard. But as of late, the other guy with the beard is taking over. The Sharks were Thornton's team, but not anymore. Brent Burns is now officially the man in San Jose and the Sharks proved it by re-signing Burns to an eight-year $8 million contract. The Sharks are also contemplating how to deal with Thornton and his next contract. Do they keep him? Do they let him test free agency? Thornton is still a heck of a player, but his game is declining. Burns is at his peak and he may not have even hit his ceiling.
The future revolves around guys like Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, and Brent Burns. It's their team now and Burns will be leading the way for at least a few years.
16 Dallas Stars – Jamie Benn
This race was a lot closer than many of the other entries simply because both players are still really good and on their way up in terms of what they're going to bring the Dallas Stars over the next many years. Why Benn loses out to Tyler Seguin is because Seguin is first and foremost a center (which most would argue is a more important position). Second, he's making less money than Benn who is raking in a whopping $9.5 million per season until the end of the 2025 season.
Seguin also gets some credit for turning his image around. When he was traded by the Boston Bruins it was because he wasn't fitting the "mold" of what the Bruins wanted. A bit more of a "playboy" it was his reputation that probably slowed teams from using him as a marketing tool. That said, I'm sure if Boston could, they'd take that trade back now. Seguin has been consistently strong since he came to the Stars, he's younger by two years and there is absolutely no way he gets traded again. The same can't be said for Benn's contract which could look like an albatross in 2020 and beyond.
15 Los Angeles Kings – Anze Kopitar
Anze Kopitar has been the face of the Los Angeles Kings for awhile now. That said, this was the first year where consistency might have been a question mark in Kopitar's game. He's still a fantastic player, and by no means should anyone rule him out as the team leader, but at $10 million per season, Kopitar needs to be among the best. That may be a stretch. That's a lot of money for a guy locked up until the end of 2023.
On the other hand, Jeff Carter is as consistent a scorer as there's been in the NHL for some time. He's right up there with the likes of Ovechkin. Carter is that guy you want on the ice the last few minutes of a game when you need a goal. He's the guy that you always put on your power play and on a Los Angeles Kings team that has gotten incredibly slow, he's the guy that doesn't seem to be bothered by pace and can score regardless.
14 Winnipeg Jets– Patrik Laine
It's easy to see how fans are getting excited over Patrik Laine. Some will make the argument that this entry is backward, but Mark Scheifele is the face of the Winnipeg Jets organization and should be for a while. Those in a hurry to crown Laine the new face of the franchise might want to hold off until he can repeat his performance at least one more time.
Yes, Laine scored an incredible 36 goals as a rookie. That put him second only to Auston Matthews as rookie goal leaders. Scheifele scored 82 points in 79 games this season. He averaged over 20 minutes per game and played about 50 times as much on the ice short-handed. He chipped in everywhere and that counts when looking for a leader you want your players to emulate.
13 Philadelphia Flyers – Claude Giroux
At one time, this one was a no-brainer. Claude Giroux was considered one of the best and deadliest forwards in the NHL. He's since come back down to earth and it can be argued his spot has been grabbed by Czech Republic star Jakub Voracek. Then, last season, Voracek struggled and in swooped Wayne Simmonds. Simmonds is more than a prolific scorer. Simmonds has been an on-the-ice energy player. He's gritty, nasty, talented and extremely involved in the community.
No one for the Flyers had a wonderful season this year, but Simmonds four seasons with right around 30 goals (in some cases more than 30) make him the player most fans are coming to watch. It will take some time for Giroux to regain his position at the top. He can do it, but Simmonds will have a lot to say about that.
12 Calgary Flames– Johnny Gaudreau
How does one not select Johnny Gaudreau as the face of the Calgary Flames? Well, in many ways he is. Perhaps he shares the spotlight with Sean Monahan, but Monahan gets the nod here simply because of the heavy lifting he does that often goes unnoticed.
Gaudreau seems to be the player people want to cheer for because he's offensive, smaller in stature and flashy. Meanwhile, Monahan is a consistent beast. He's more captain material than Gaudreau and when defenseman Mark Giordano decides to call it a career, you can bet your behind that the Flames choose Monahan over Gaudreau as the next team captain. While the NHL is no longer a big man's game and Gaudreau will continue to provide the NHL with highlight reel goals, you can't ignore the fact that Monahan is more built to play a more injury free career and likely the better player over the long haul.
11 Boston Bruins – Brad Marchand
Brad Marchand had an outstanding year and everyone seems to designate him as the icon of the Bruins organization. With 85 points he was Boston's offensive leader in almost every way. All that said, he's still got a long way to go before he can unseat Patrice Bergeron as the face of the Bruins franchise. Not a season goes by where Marchand hasn't done something to ruffle the feathers of the NHL and put his team in jeopardy because of his tendency to play dirty. He's not figured out where the line is or how not to cross it. Meanwhile, Bergeron is about as sportsmanlike as NHL players come, and to boot, Bergeron is competitive as ever.
One season does not make Marchand the new king in Beantown. He'll have to produce at that level for at least one or two more consecutive seasons to unthrone Bergeron (a Canadian hockey icon.) Bergeron is still Boston's best player and some will argue it isn't close.
10 Nashville Predators– P.K. Subban
It's easy to see why people are immediately drawn to P.K. Subban. He has a magnetic personality that makes you either love or hate him. He was the same way in Montreal, but the Canadiens saw it as more of a hindrance than a blessing. Nashville welcomes his charm, but his flamboyance doesn't earn him the nod as the most deserving face of the franchise in Nashville.
That honor should belong to Ryan Ellis who is quickly becoming the most underrated NHL star in the league. Give it time and pretty soon everyone will know who Ellis is (if they don't already). He's got great hockey sense, a booming shot from the point and he's only getting better and better. The fact that he's in Nashville is the only reason he's not a massive star right now. If he hasn't overtaken Subban as the Preds best blueliner, he will.
9 Colorado Avalanche – Nathan McKinnon
This selection is sure to get some people upset, especially in Colorado. An argument can certainly be made that MacKinnon is the Avs best player. Another argument can be made that you can't make the face of your franchise someone who might get traded. If the plan is to trade Matt Duchene, that argument holds water.
If, however, the Colorado Avalanche elects instead to hold onto Duchene, he's easily their most well-rounded player and should hold the position as the face of the franchise until McKinnon is truly ready to take the spot. Duchene is a statistical dream. If you're a big believer in analytics, he's your guy. He's got speed, skill and can play any forward position. He plays a 200-ft game and it's actually amazing that the Avs are panicking enough after a lousy season that they're considering trading him. It would be a huge mistake. Until he's no longer in Colorado, go with Duchene.
8 Columbus Blue Jackets – Sergei Bobrovsky
The Columbus Blue Jackets had one heck of a 2016-17 season. They did so mostly on the back of an outstanding performance by goaltender Sergei Bobvrosky. But, when push came to shove in the playoffs, Bobrovsky faltered. You know who didn't? Cam Atkinson.
Atkinson is a player who gets better and better each season. Bobrovsky is hit and miss. While Bobrovsky can have miraculous performances, he can also be merely average and when he's average the Blue Jackets struggle. Atkinson never seems to waiver and as a player with one more year, before he hits unrestricted free agency, you can bet Columbus is going to be looking to lock him up to a long-term deal. Atkinson is the guy you tell your fans about. He's the face you post all over your city.
7 Florida Panthers – Jaromir Jagr
When you have Jaromir Jagr on your team, you have an easy out in terms of a marketing campaign. After all, Jagr is the ageless wonder. He's the guy that every other player wishes they could be. He loves the game, he's in great shape and he's a bonafide superstar. He's also not the future of the organization.
That title should go to a player like Aleksander Barkov. The young Florida center is truly a star in the making. He scored at a higher point-per-game pace than any other Panther in 2015-16 and 2016-17 and he's only going to improve on those totals. He's 6'3", over 200 lbs and only 21. Jagr is now 45. It's time to pass the torch — something Jagr is more than likely happy to do.
6 Minnesota Wild – Zach Parise
Something unfortunate happened to Zach Parise's game in 2016-17 and for the sake of the Minnesota Wild, they better hope he gets whatever he's lost back. A $7.5 million cap hit until the end of 2025, it would be bad news for the Wild if his game started to consistently regress.
Meanwhile, the guy who signed at the same time and for an identical deal is killing it. Ryan Suter is averaging more ice time than almost any other player in the NHL. He's a machine and he never seems to tire, contributing on offense and defense. A Minnesota native, he's the perfect face for a franchise that needs someone consistent to hold down the fort. Suter is the guy you call on no matter the situation. He's the guy that never waivers.
5 New Jersey Devils– Taylor Hall
You can't say Taylor Hall was the face of the New Jersey Devils before 2016 (he wasn't a Devil), but upon his arrival, he was the offensive weapon the team and the city hoped would solve the Devils' scoring woes. Meanwhile, everyone seemed to forget about the true superstar on the team which was goaltender Cory Schneider.
New Jersey was terrible last season. One can only imagine how bad things could have been without Schneider between the pipes. Hall meanwhile gets a bad rep for being on a losing team everywhere he's ever been. He's a driver of offense, but he seems to be the guy you bring in if you want to win an NHL Draft Lottery. It isn't fair to Hall, but that's the way things have gone his entire NHL career. He was at first viewed as a steal in the Adam Larsson trade. Some have changed their tune since the Edmonton Oilers did so well this past season.
4 New York Rangers –Henrik Lundqvist
He was the man in New York for years. He still kind of is. He's just not necessarily the best hockey player in New York any longer. Henrik Lundqvist's game is slowly regressing. He's still one of the best goaltenders ever and will be an immediate Hall of Famer, but today, the Rangers are led by players like Matts Zuccarello, J.T. Miller and Derek Stepan.
Lundqvist will go down in history as one of the Ranger all-time greats. His time as the face of the franchise is coming to a close and it's a matter of time before he calls it a career. Will it be this next season or the season after? Perhaps not as he's signed until the end of 2022. Will his $8.5 million per year contract start to become more of a negative than a positive? Maybe.
3 Vancouver Canucks– The Sedins
For fans of the Vancouver Canucks, it's probably sacrilegious to suggest that the Sedins shouldn't be the face of the franchise and are no longer the teams best players. It's true though and Bo Horvat is taking Vancouver by storm. With 52 points this season, Horvat was at the top of a very small and unsuccessful pile in Van City, but these 52 points are only a benchmark, not a ceiling for what he can do. His speed and skill make it easy to see that the Canucks will be moving toward youth and transitioning the Sedins out. It should be a graceful transition and the Sedins will be respected all along the way, but it's a matter of time as the Sedins are unrestricted free agents after this coming season.
2 Arizona Coyotes – Shane Doan
If you thought of the Arizona Coyotes, you were both in the minority and you were probably thinking of Shane Doan. Doan has been the consistent face of the Coyotes franchise since they moved to Arizona and he's stayed loyal to them despite their struggles. But, Doan has not been their best player for years.
That title goes to Oliver Ekman-Larsson who is one of the best defensemen in the NHL. For all the players Arizona has given away and all the financial moves they've made to sustain their existence in a city that doesn't seem to want them, Ekman-Larsson is as close to untradeable as this franchise will ever get. They'd be crazy to move such a talent and at only $5.5 million per season, he's a bargain. Doan's been a soldier, but Ekman-Larsson is the man in the desert.
1 Toronto Maple Leafs – Auston Matthews
The last entry was saved for last because it's sure to piss people off. Auston Matthews is now the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Maple Leafs are now Auston Matthews. One seems to be synonymous with the other and soon, Matthews will hold the title of both the face of the franchise and the best player. He just may not be there yet.
Nazem Kadri, for all his quirks and ways to irritate people, is probably the most useful Maple Leaf on the roster right now. He plays a 200-ft game, he's pesky and nasty, is given the assignment of defending the opposition's best forwards and he consistently produces points. Kadri, like a Ryan Kesler or Corey Perry, has a way to take you off your game. He allows for players like Matthews to do what they do, while Kadri distracts and frustrates you to no end. Will Matthews overtake him next season? Perhaps. Are most hoping that's the case. Absolutely!
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