The National Hockey League has a decidedly different relationship to money than the Big Three of American sports: football, baseball, and basketball. That is, NHL players aren’t plastered onto anything and everything like NBA players, they aren’t synonymous with the lavish contracts that MLB players are notorious for receiving, and they’re not part of the league that completely decimates everyone else when it comes to ratings and television revenue (the NFL, obviously).
Perhaps because the sport is less lucrative at the top, the NHL has had the most contentious relationship between its owners and players. Hockey is the only major American sport to lose an entire season to a lockout in the last 20 years, when the owners bailed on the 2004-2005 season entirely only 10 years after shrinking the ’94-’95 season all the way down to a mere 48 games, just over half the length of a normal 82-game season. If that sounds oddly familiar, its because the owners did the exact same thing in 2012, when they chopped the ’12-’13 season to 48 games.
And, yes, owners initiate lockouts. Not players. Player-originated work stoppages are called strikes. Any kind of sports lockout is always at the feet of the franchise owners. Just, you know, so everyone’s on the same page with that. Why do owners initiate lockouts? Because they want more money. In that regard, the NHL is exactly like every other sports league. True, the stakes may be a little smaller, but they’re still arguing over how, exactly, the pie is divided. And, like other sports, it takes a large initial investment to get invited to the owners’ party.
With that in mind, here are the seven most valuable franchises in the NHL.
7. Philadelphia Fliers: $625 million
The Philadelphia Flyers have lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup twice in franchise’s history. But they haven’t won it all since the 1974-75 season. Despite playing in a city that craves its blue-collar heroes, it’s been quite some time since this organization resembled anything close to the Broad Street Bullies of yesteryear. Time will tell if current general manager Ron Hextall’s risky moves will right the ship that’s found itself off course for the last couple of seasons.
6. Boston Bruins: $750 million
While the Bruins may have refused to play any semblance of defense in that earlier clip, they’ve still been able to amass a longstanding tradition of heartbreaking losses (and one lone victory in 2011) that sustains the increasingly rare “tortured” strain of New England sports fan. The Bruins have only missed the playoffs five times in the last 15 years, and the last time they won the cup there were riots — in Vancouver, because the Bruins beat the Canucks.
5. Vancouver Canucks: $800 million
The first team on our list is also the highest riser in terms of one-year value change. The Canucks are 15 percent more valuable in 2014 than they were a year earlier, despite the fact that they missed the playoffs and failed to win more than 60 percent of their games for the first time since the ’06-’07 season. The Canucks have never won a Stanley Cup, though they have made it to the finals three times: in 2011, 1994, and 1982.
4. Chicago Blackhawks: $825 million
The Blackhawks, on the other hand, are not only worth more, they’ve also been more successful, notching five Stanley Cup wins so far, with the most recent coming in 2013, when they famously scored two goals in 17 seconds to come back from a 2-1 deficit and clinch the title (YouTube clip above). They also won it all in 2010, 1961, and notched a pair of victories in the 1930s.
3. Montreal Canadiens: $1.0 billion
One of the most storied franchises in the NHL, the Canadiens have a 23-2 record in the Stanley Cup Final, a feat that puts them well in front of their closest contemporary, the relatively lacking Toronto Maple Leafs, who have just 13 wins. The Canadiens, though, are probably best known for their rivalry with the Boston Bruins, a spat that spawned the infamous Richards riot. NHL President Clarence Campbell, appearing at a Canadiens game after suspending Maurice Richards for fighting with a Bruins player, inadvertently caused a violent outbreak of his own just for showing up.
2. New York Rangers: $1.1 billion
The real hockey team of New York, since the Islanders play in Long Island (until this season, when they officially play their first game at Barclays), the Rangers are worth a ton of money, as can only be expected for a team that plays its home games at Madison Square Garden, one of the most iconic sports arenas in the world. Four-time Stanley Cup winners, the Rangers haven’t been able to be the last team standing since 1994, when they beat the Vancouver Canucks.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs: $1.3 billion
As much as hockey is associated with a single country, the sport is first and foremost linked to Canada. As such, the Maple Leafs, playing in Canada’s largest city, seem a natural fit with the top spot on this list despite their relative lack of success in recent years. The Leafs have only made the playoffs once since 2005, and their most recent Stanley Cup victory was all the way back in 1967, even though they have 13 titles in their franchise history — second only to the Canadiens, and more than any team based in the U.S.
All valuations are courtesy of Forbes.