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Forbes NHL Team Valuations Almost Throws Owners' Lockout a Bone

Depending on how you read it, Forbes' latest NHL franchise valuations argue for lower player salaries -- or higher owner revenue sharing.

"Nice new house." >"Thank you."
"Nice new house." >"Thank you."
Bruce Bennett

The philosophical quandary over who should carry the burden of the No Hockey League's desire to maintain on-ice parity lingers on: Should it come via increased revenue sharing between rich and poor owner, or via artificially capping player salaries to an even lower level -- or, really, what combination of both?

Despite all the rhetoric which comes from both the NHL and the NHLPA, that was and remains the central issue in the current CBA negotiations, which the NHL has torqued by imposing its third lockout.

What is a war between players and owners is also undeniably a war between owners and other owners -- though thanks to the NHL's brilliant (seriously) gag rule, we'll never know with 100% certainty which owners are killing this league. (Although, you can rarely go wrong by placing blame on Jacobs.)

The argument cycle, in case you missed 2004: The players said no cap or death. The owners said a cap was needed to keep 30 teams alive, because we're too dumb to stop our selves, unless you prefer there be fewer jobs via contraction/more bankruptcies? The players said no silly, just move the bad teams to more profitable places. The owners said that's easier said than done, not every city will build you a free arena these days, and besides they're our teams -- and think of the long-term continental footprint! The players said market us better and maybe you'll make money. The owners said are you kidding? Have you seen you guys' interviews? You're as marketable as piece of drift wood. ... and on and on.

Anyway, Forbes' latest franchise valuations illustrate the divide and why a salary cap of some form was and is necessary: The distinguished financial magazine and online content farm -- not the authoritative source on NHL financials but probably the best we have -- issued an update that claims "the league's 30 teams have never been farther apart." Given that the last CBA capped salaries while enabling the richest teams to grow revenues to record heights, it's hard to argue Forbes is wrong.

Possibly to make headlines (round numbers are pretty and satisfying) but quite possibly with solid reasoning, Forbes says the Toronto Maple Leafs are now the NHL's first $1 billion club. At the other end of the spectrum, the publication puts the St. Louis Blues -- who have had a history of mostly well intended owners cry poor and give up -- at the bottom at $130 million, even below the Phoenix Coyotes.

(The Blues are an interesting case: Even when the team is doing well and the building is selling out, it operates in a market with a historically low cost of living, where people are not accustomed to exorbitant ticket prices, much less paying admission to museums.)

Just three spots above the Blues, at 27th, are the New York Islanders, which Forbes says has increased in value by $4 million 4 percent over its last ranking. No mention whether this increase to $155 million has anything to do with the impending relocation to Brooklyn, which should boost revenues but is at present not scheduled until 2015. [EDIT: Oh yes there is a mention. As 19! pointed out in comments, if you click through all the click bait to the Islanders' entry in the accompanying slideshow, the text claims the value increased "4% due to the team moving from the antiquated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum to the new Barclcays Arena for the 2015 season."]

Forbes' latest list helps underline the issues that ail the league. (On a personal note, it also reminds me I root for poor teams.) What remains is how willing the league's owners are willing to fix those issues, versus how long they're willing to cut off their nose to spite some other rich guy's face.