The NHL is growing, certainly in terms of cash register sounds.
According to Forbes.com, the average value of an NHL franchise skyrocketed by 46 percent last year to $413 million. Only one team had a value of more than $1 billion, the Toronto Maple Leafs at $1.15 billion.
The rest of the top five franchise included the New York Rangers ($850 million), Montreal Canadiens ($775 million), Vancouver Canucks ($700 million) and Chicago Blackhawks ($625 million). It’s the first time since Forbes began tracking franchise values in 1998 that three Canadian franchises were in the top five.
It’s also the first time that all seven Canadian-based teams were in the top 16 in the 30-team league.
The San Jose Sharks came in at No. 13 on the list with a current value of $405 million, an 82 percent increase from last year.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are the least valuable franchise in the NHL at $175 million, up 21 percent from 2012. Every team saw their value increase from last year. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s growth was the smallest, just 3 percent to $180 million. The Canucks were the biggest mover, up 105 percent.
Not surprisingly, every franchise of the NHL’s “Original Six”—the six teams that were in operation at the time the league began to aggressively expand in 1967—is in the top 10. The Boston Bruins are sixth at $600 million and the Detroit Red Wings are ninth at $470 million. The other four Original Six franchises are in the top five (the Maple Leafs, Rangers, Canadiens and Blackhawks).
What the numbers mean is that the financial system the owners fought for at the expense of almost half of last season’s schedule is working.
The NHL began in 1917 with four franchises—the Canadiens, Toronto Arenas (a forerunner of the present-day Maple Leafs), the Ottawa Senators (no relation to the modern-day club) and the Montreal Wanderers. The Wanderers folded just six games into the season after their home rink burned down, leaving the fledgling league with three teams.
In the early days of the NHL, the league challenged the champions of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association for the Stanley Cup.
The league grew back to four teams in 1919 with the addition of the Quebec Bulldogs, the same year the Arenas were renamed the St. Patricks. The Bulldogs lasted just one year, moving to Hamilton and renaming themselves the Tigers in 1920.
The NHL came to the U.S. for the first time in 1924 when the Bruins joined the league and a sixth team entered the circuit in the Montreal Maroons.
In 1925, the Hamilton Tigers folded, but were replaced by two more U.S. entries, the New York Americans and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The landmark day for the National Hockey League came in 1926, when it took sole possession of the Stanley Cup. Since 1926, only NHL teams have competed for the Cup, and the league expanded to 10 teams in 1926 with the additions of the Rangers, Blackhawks and Detroit Cougars (a forerunner of the Red Wings). This was also the year that the Maple Leafs came into being, with Toronto’s franchise renaming itself from the St. Patricks.
The depression began to affect the league in 1930. The Pirates abandoned Pittsburgh for Philadelphia, renamed the Quakers, and new ownership in Detroit renamed the club the Falcons.
In 1931, the Quakers folded and the Montreal Maroons didn’t fold, but they suspended operations for a season, returning in 1932, the same year the Red Wings settled on their now-iconic nickname.
In 1934, with the North American economy still in a huge funk, the Senators abandoned Ottawa and played one season at the St. Louis Eagles, folding after the 1934-35 season.
The Maroons were the next domino to fall, folding at the conclusion of the 1937-38 campaign, leaving the NHL with seven clubs. In 1941, the New York Americans tried to rebrand themselves as the Brooklyn Americans, but they folded after the 1941-42 season.
That left what is now known as the Original Six and those six teams made up the NHL for the next quarter-century, until the league doubled in size in 1967, a foray that included the Bay Area’s first entry into the league with the Oakland Seals.
The other new franchises included the Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota North Stars, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and St. Louis Blues.
Oddly, the league put the Original Six teams in one division and named it the East. The new teams comprised the West Division—because when one thinks of the West, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh immediately come to mind.
In 1970, the Buffalo Sabres and the Canucks entered as expansion teams and the Seals, under new owner Charles O. Finley (of Oakland A’s fame), were rechristened as the California Golden Seals.
1972 saw the coming of the World Hockey Association and the birth of two more expansion clubs, the Atlanta Flames and New York Islanders. Two more new clubs joined the NHL in 1974, with the Kansas City Scouts and Washington Capitals.
Kansas City’s stay was a short one; two years later in 1976, the franchise left for Denver to become the Colorado Rockies. The Golden Seals also became a memory in 1976, moving to Cleveland and becoming the Barons.
The Barons would fold two years later after the 1977-78 season, merging with the North Stars in Minnesota. In 1979, the WHA died, with four franchises being absorbed in a merger—the Edmonton Oilers, Hartford Whalers, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets.
In 1980, the Flames abandoned Atlanta for Calgary and in 1982, the Rockies left Colorado to head east and become the New Jersey Devils.
The league stayed steady for the next decade, until the Sharks became the NHL’s 22nd franchise in 1991, followed shortly thereafter by the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning in 1992 and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Florida Panthers in 1993. That was also the year the North Stars left Minnesota for Dallas, becoming the Stars.
In 1995, the Nordiques left Quebec City and the NHL was back in Denver with the Colorado Avalanche. The next year, the Winnipeg Jets headed to the desert and became the Phoenix Coyotes and in 1997, the Whalers became the Carolina Hurricanes.
The most recent round of expansion began a year later, in 1998, with the Nashville Predators. The Atlanta Thrashers came on board in 1999 and the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild followed in 2000.
The last franchise shift came in 2011, when the Thrashers became the second team to leave Atlanta for Canada, becoming the new iteration of the Winnipeg Jets.
Franchise history information from hockey-reference.com.