Breaking down Forbes' NHL team values

Breaking down Forbes' NHL team values
November 26, 2013, 10:00 am
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According to Forbes, Ed Snider's Flyers turned a $6 million operating profit last season despite missing the playoffs. (AP)

The company and magazine that reveals and ranks the world’s richest people also calculates the game on ice. On Monday, Forbes released its annual NHL team valuations -- an estimate of the value of each of the 30 teams -- and despite what you’ve seen or read during nasty labor negotiations, there’s money to be made in the NHL.

According to Forbes, 19 teams returned a profit -- from the Maple Leafs at the top, hauling in $48.7 million, to the Colorado Avalanche (17th), turning a modest $300,000. The Flyers climbed up one spot to seventh.

Impressively, the Flyers were still able to turn a $6 million operating income despite the lack of revenue after failing to qualify for the playoffs. The Comcast enterprise is now valued at a half-billion dollars, an increase of 49 percent from 2011-12. Here are some other observations:

Do big UFAs still make cents?
The NHL’s new 10-year CBA effectively ended long-term, front-loaded contracts, allowing more owners to put profits into their pockets. Perhaps Ed Snider and the other board members at Comcast-Spectacor can thank the Nashville Predators for strengthening the Flyers' bottom line. Had Nashville refused to match the offer sheet for defenseman Shea Weber, the Flyers would have been operating in the red after cutting Weber a check for $14 million last summer. No surprise the Minnesota Wild had the largest operating loss of any NHL team at $13.6 million -- the result of signing Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to identical 13-year, $98 million contracts.

Blackhawks are perfect business model
Not only have the ‘Hawks hoisted the Stanley Cup twice in a four-year span, they’ve proven to be one of the league’s most profitable, with an operating income of $25.6 million -- second to the New York Rangers among U.S.-based teams. The Blackhawks are now valued at $625 million -- up 79 percent from the previous year. Owner Rocky Wirtz has lived by the motto “You have to spend money in order to make money,” and within the hockey operations, the Blackhawks have spent wisely. As co-owners of the United Center, the 'Hawks are one of four NHL teams with little or no debt.

Don't count your money by the Cup
The Maple Leafs, Rangers and Canadiens are the Big Three when it comes to current value, revenue and operating income, but that clearly hasn’t translated into success on the ice. The Blueshirts were the last of those teams to win Lord Stanley’s Cup back in 1994, with the Canadiens winning a year earlier. Plus, the wealth is distributed a little more evenly. Last year, Toronto, New York and Montreal accounted for a whopping 83 percent of the league’s income. This year, they accounted for just over half of that amount.

Canadian teams are moneymakers
If the NHL is seriously considering expanding to 32 teams, it’s hard to argue putting two more franchises in Canada. All seven of the Canadian teams rank in the top 16 for the first time in Forbes’ rankings, including three in the top four. Combined, the seven Canadian teams had earnings totaling $129 million -- an average of $18.4 million per team. Comparatively, the 23 U.S.-based franchises collectively had an operating income totaling $81.3 million, or an average of $3.53 million per team. The Winnipeg Jets are now valued at $340 million, or twice what True North Sports & Entertainment paid to bail the franchise out of Atlanta just a few years ago.

Harris right on the money
Sixers owner Josh Harris rescued the New Jersey Devils from an NHL takeover, purchasing the franchise and the lease to the Prudential Center as well as assuming all debt for $320 million back in August. If you thought Harris overpaid, consider that Forbes’ value of the Devils came in at $320 million. However, when evaluating the Devils franchise, a few disturbing aspects stand out. The Dallas Stars (playing in a non-traditional hockey market) and the Buffalo Sabres (playing in one of the league’s smallest markets) are pulling in as much revenue as the Devils, who lost $4.2 million in 2012-13 coming off their run to the Stanley Cup Final the year before. Harris' franchise also has a debt/value ratio of 81 percent, by far the highest of any team in the NHL.