May 08, 2009
SI's Best & Worst Owners identified the five best and five worst owners in each of the four major team sports. The method was not scientific but based on numerous factors, some of which are indisputable and some of which are intangible. Among the criteria used to evaluate owners was the willingness to spend money to improve the team; the stability and capabilities of the front office and management; the amenities at the team's venue; and the club's culture and interactivity with fans. Of course, weighing heavily in the decision was the team's success or failure on the field. (Note: Records are through 2008-09 regular season.)
Five Best NHL Owners
5 Peter Karmanos Carolina Hurricanes
Purchased 1994
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$47.5M $168M 492-462-111-49 .442 5 1
To be fair, it was rough going for the software entrepreneur at the beginning of his tenure: He couldn't get his new arena in Raleigh built in time, forcing the 'Canes to play 90 minutes away to a half-empty hall in Greensboro. But things began to turn around for Karmanos in 2002, as Carolina made a surprise run to the Stanley Cup finals and then won it in '06. Since then, it has been a bit of a Cup hangover, but the fact that Paul Maurice wanted to return to the organization as coach says a lot about the environment. This year, the 'Canes were one of the hottest teams heading into the playoffs. And with a nucleus of Erik Cole, Eric Staal, Cam Ward and ageless captain Rod Brind'Amour, Karmanos has an enviably stable, competitive franchise.
4 Silicon Valley Sports &Ent. San Jose Sharks
Purchased 2002
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$149M $179M 268-152-21-51 .545 5 0
Under the Gund family, the Sharks became a financially sound expansion franchise that spent little time experiencing growing pains. When the Cleveland-based family sold the team to a local ownership group in 2002, it began to mature. Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment has presided over the most sustained period of success in the 17-year-old organization's history and one that has seen the Sharks become a consistent threat for that elusive first Stanley Cup. Part of that is due to the new owners' hiring Doug Wilson as GM, a former player who hasn't been afraid to make bold moves if the team is struggling in the smallest of areas. More if it is due to consistent franchise cornerstones such as Jonathan Cheechoo and Patrick Marleau.
3 Mario Lemieux/Ron Burkle Pittsburgh Penguins
Purchased 1999
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$95M $195M 318-316-39-65 .431 5 0
If it weren't for Hall-of-Famer Lemieux (pictured), there might no longer be a hockey team in Pittsburgh. A year after he retired, the franchise couldn't even afford to pay its players. Lemieux and Burkle stepped in, taking on a heavy load of red ink. And with the Pens struggling on the ice, Super Mario decided to come back and add some sorely need pizzazz. But the team still didn't have the money to compete until the salary cap was instituted in 2005. Retired again, Lemieux began rebuilding the team with young Sidney Crosby as the centerpiece. Today, the Penguins are back among the NHL's elite, reaching their third Stanley Cup finals last season, and they're staying in Pittsburgh, thanks to a 30-year lease to play in under-construction Consol Energy Center.
2 Jeffrey Vanderbeek New Jersey Devils
Purchased 2000
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$175M $222M 415-223-51-49 .562 8 2
How wise a decision it was when Vanderbeek resigned his post as a top exec at Lehman Brothers in 2004 to run the Devils full-time. His former firm has collapsed while his team continues to be one of the best-run, most successful in the NHL. Vanderbeek was smart enough to leave the management of the franchise to team president and GM Lou Lamoriello, who had built the Devils into a two-time Stanley Cup winner. The team won a third championship in 2003. Meanwhile, Vanderbeek succeeded in building a long sought-after new arena for the Devils, centrally located in downtown Newark. And though an era of players have come and gone, record-breaking goalie Martin Brodeur and Co. are still perennial favorites in the Atlantic Division.
1 Mike Ilitch Detroit Red Wings
Purchased 1982
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$8M $303M 1,080-732-225-54 .533 23 4
Any potential buyer of one of the NHL's Original Six knows he has a huge obligation, and Ilitch understood that immediately when he purchased his hometown team for $8 million in 1982. The Wings were riding nine straight sub-.500 seasons at the time. The Little Caesars Pizza magnate immediately began pumping money into the organization and, under his ownership, the team brought in impact players such as Steve Yzerman, Bob Probert, Adam Oates and Steve Chiasson. It took a little time, but the Wings became a perennial playoff team and, finally, brought Lord Stanley back to Hockeytown in 1997 -- the first of four championships of the Ilitch Era.
Five Worst NHL Owners
5 Predator Holdings LLC Nashville Predators
Purchased 2007
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$193M $164M 81-66-0-17 .494 1 0
No offense to the Music City -- it's just not a hockey town. If things had gone right, the Predators would now be playing in Hamilton, Ontario, where a hockey team could thrive. But former owner Craig Leipold backed out of a deal to sell the Preds to Jim Balsillie after the BlackBerry pioneer couldn't promise he would keep the team in Nashville. Instead, a panicked consortium of 30 local investors put together a deal to keep the team from moving. The Preds now face a shaky future in Nashville as the team can break its lease if it loses enough money or attendance drops. With the economy facing an uncertain future and pro hockey fighting against the grain in a non-traditional market, Hamilton may end up getting its team after all.
4 Atlanta Spirit Atlanta Thrashers
Purchased 2004
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$80M $158M 153-142-0-33 .519 1 0
When Time Warner (SI's parent company) sold the Thrashers in 2003, it was to a group known as Atlanta Spirit, LLC. Ironic that it was neither wholly Atlanta (its partners are also based in Boston and Washington, D.C.) nor spirited (they're involved in an in-house feud with Steve Belkin (pictured) with both sides claiming they have an option to buy each other out). It's a case of too many cooks and not enough direction, as the group has had similar problems with the management of its other franchise, the NBA's Hawks. The Thrashers have been getting steadily worse since their lone postseason appearance two years ago and have squandered talented players like Ilya Kovalchuck, Vyacheslav Kozlov and Bryan Little.
3 Charles Wang New York Islanders
Purchased 2000
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$187.5M $154M 273-297-37-49 .416 4 0
"If I had the chance, I wouldn't do it again," Wang recently told Newsday about buying the team -- just what Isles fans wanted to hear. He may have opened up his sizable checkbook multiple times, but the software entrepreneur doesn't know much about running a hockey franchise. His impulsive, management-by-committee style has the team in a perpetual rebuilding mode. It often seems like he makes contrarian decisions for the sake of being contrary: Witness his hiring and firing of GM Neil Smith after just 40 days. This past season, the Isles limped to their worst finish since Wang's first year in the owner's box and he's threatening to move the team to Kansas City if he doesn't get a new arena to replace decrepit Nassau Coliseum.
2 Alan Cohen Florida Panthers
Purchased 2001
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$101M $163M 225-245-38-66 .443 0 0
Thirteen years after their surprise run to the Stanley Cup finals as a third-year franchise, the Panthers' early success seems as much a fluke as hockey in South Florida. Pharmaceutical tycoon Cohen has been unable to find a way to connect with the fans. He made the wrong hire of Jacques Martin as head coach in 2004, then allowed him to be the team's GM as well after Mike Keenan left two years later. Then last April, as the Panthers were slumping to another lame finish in the Southeast, Cohen relieved Martin of his coaching duties but let him stay on as GM.
1 MLSE Toronto Maple Leafs
Purchased 1994
Purchase Price Current Value W-L Winning % Playoffs Championships
$102M $448M 525-439-89-61 .471 8 0
How can the $1.75 billion owners of the most valuable franchise in hockey continue to so mismanage one of the NHL's most storied teams? The Leafs still haven't won a Stanley Cup in 42 years, and the deep pockets of its parent organization have done little to reverse that trend. But it's not some fat-cat collective running the team from its penthouse suite -- since 1994, MLSE's primary investor has been the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan. Unfortunately, the dysfunctional relationship between the two principals -- Richard Peddie and Larry Tannenbaum -- continues to trickle down to the on-ice product, as MLSE is too busy running too many sports properties and breaking ground on too many real estate projects to pay enough attention to the Leafs.

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