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The red and the black: Forbes finds NHL is a have/have-not league

Wealth is no guarantee, but the Red Wings wisely use theirs on shrewd management and scouting that finds and develops gems like Henrik Zetterberg, a seventh-round draft pick in 1999. (Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)


By Stu Hackel

Timing may not be everything, but it's a big thing, and with news of the potential Maple Leafs sale rushing from behind to swamp word of the potential Sabres sale, there was no better time than yesterday for Forbes Magazine to publish its annual valuations of NHL franchises.

The most striking finding of this year's survey is Forbes' contention that "16 teams were in the red, with the six biggest money-losers (Phoenix Coyotes, Florida Panthers, Washington Capitals, Atlanta Thrashers, Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning) dropping an aggregate of $63 million."

With the top seven revenue teams (Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks and Vancouver Canucks) combining to earn $241 million, and none making less than $13 million, it's a two-tiered league when it comes to franchise values.

Team values are interesting to owners, potential buyers and other business interests (although the NHL historically refuses to give Forbes research much credence), but from a fan's standpoint in the salary cap era, how much do franchise values impact a team's competitive level? Not as much as they did prior to the lockout when teams could potentially spend like drunken hockey owners sailors and try to buy a Stanley Cup. It worked a few times, but it was no guarantee. Now, with spending capped, it's even less of a factor.

That doesn't mean rich clubs can't use their resources in areas that are not capped, like player development and scouting. A robust minor league operation and strong group of dedicated, accomplished scouts who can spot young amateur talent or properly assess NHL players available via trade or free agency are critical to building a winning organization. It's a point that our friend and colleague Pierre McGuire makes often and teams like the Red Wings, who have a history of great drafting, developing talent and player acquisition at the NHL level, understand it. That's why Detroit has been at or near the top of the NHL for a long time.

The Forbes 2010 analysis includes a story on the NHL's highest paid players  (Vinny Lecavalier, Roberto Luongo and Sidney Crosby being the top three) with an accompanying slide show . There's also a story on which GMs get the most bang for their bucks, comparing success on the ice with the payrolls they are given since the salary cap was instituted. That story also has a slide show. Nashville's David Poile is ranked number 1. The field was limited to GMs in their jobs for at least four years of the five-year period since the lockout and were  active into this season.

There's also a piece on the sale of the Canadiens to the Molson family last year (and you can read more about that on The Montreal Gazette's Habs Inside/Out blog).