Yea, I'd remove the staples too. If you can find a good pair of pliers that will really GRIP those staples, that's what you want. I use a flat-nosed pair of pliers. They're actually Electrician Pliers. Beings the pliers are flat on the 'nose', you can really grip the WHOLE staple. And the teeth, inside, are very fine so you really get a lot of grip, and it's not very 'hard' on your hand.
Also, since you're talking about hardwood ... Get yourself a thin piece of wood to lay under the pliers just in 'back' of the tip of the pliers to use as a 'lift', or rocker. What I mean is, when you grip the staple, slide this 1/4" piece of wood up towards the nose of the pliers (towards the staple as you're still gripping it with the pliers), and 'rock' the staple up, and out. If you need a thicker piece of wood, suit yourself. The wood block helps make it a little easier on your hands, and you don't 'ding' the hardwood that much, if at all. DO be conscience of the 'nose' of the pliers (depending on which type you use), in that you don't allow the nose to dig into the hardwood as you're rocking or pulling or twisting the staple.