NHL Trade Rumors: Toronto Maple Leafs and 10 Teams That Could Be Sellers Soon

April WeinerCorrespondent IJanuary 4, 2011

NHL Trade Rumors: Toronto Maple Leafs and 10 Teams That Could Be Sellers Soon

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    TORONTO, CANADA - DECEMBER 30:  Rick Nash #61 of the Columbus Blue Jackets blocks a shot by Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs in a game on December 30, 2010 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Canada. The Blue Jackets defeated the Leafs 3-2. (Ph
    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Owning a professional sports team is every sports fan’s fantasy, as well as a lot of wealthy people who know nothing about sports.

    While you might think that a team that’s in debt and responsible for paying the mortgage of an arena, while also maintaining a poor record and poor turnout at games, wouldn’t be selling features, to many, these are the selling features of the following teams.

    Every businessman (or woman) thinks that they have the business acumen to turn these sorry franchises into winning teams and success stories. And there are owners like Jeff Vinik in Tampa who show that it is possible.

    Plus, because of the aforementioned abysmal features, these aspiring owners can get these teams at bargain prices. What could be a better deal? Here are the 10 teams that could be sellers soon, based on the above criteria and a December Forbes breakdown of their values.  

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    VANCOUVER, CANADA - DECEMBER 18: Francois Beauchemin #22 of the Toronto Maple Leafs tries to get a shot on goalie Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks  during the third period in NHL action on December 18, 2010 at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, BC, Cana
    Rich Lam/Getty Images

    The Toronto Maple Leafs franchise was bought in 1994 by the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan for $102 million. Based in the heart of the hockey homeland, the Maple Leafs have historically been the most profitable and valuable team in the NHL, valued at $505 million currently, according to Forbes.

    However, for the first time in its 11-year lifespan, the Air Canada Centre (home to the Maple Leafs and Toronto Raptors) didn’t sell all of its platinum lounges last year. Thinking that it was the effects of the bad economy, the ownership group renovated the Air Canada Centre to hold less platinum lounges and replace them with more Chairman’s Club seats that fans could purchase for less, which they hoped would help them sell out again.

    They spent $2.3 million on these renovations. Only problem: attendance was down, too. This could probably be attributed to the fact that the Maple Leafs have not brought the Stanley Cup to Toronto since 1967 and haven’t been able to make the playoffs since 2004.

    With continued abysmal seasons, even more fans will likely stop purchasing tickets, causing a bigger drop in revenue and attendance, and the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan will have a large gap between revenues and payments, affecting the retirements of Ontario teachers.

    But the franchise’s prestige and the business opportunity is enough to attract a wealthy buyer. After all, the Montreal Canadiens, another prestigious and historic Canadian team, sold in 2009 for $575 million, the richest sale in NHL history.

    Rogers Communication, who own the Toronto Blue Jays as well as their media outlets, is rumored to be looking to buy out the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan’s stake in the team. If this deal goes through, it will likely replace the Canadiens’ sale as the richest in league history.

    However, the Pension Plan’s CEO Jim Leech insists that they are not looking to sell their stake in the Maple Leafs because “Teachers' has never had a firm offer to sell our investment.”

    Surely that could change with an offer from the wealthy media and sports conglomerate Rogers Communication, especially since the Pension Plan is starting to sell off their stakes in other companies, such as their 10 percent stake in Maple Leaf Foods.

10. Phoenix Coyotes

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    GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 29:  Scottie Upshall #8 of the Phoenix Coyotes celebrates with teammates after scoring agianst the Los Angeles Kings during the NHL game at Jobing.com Arena on December 29, 2010 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Coyotes defeated the Kings
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    The Phoenix Coyotes have been known as a money pit for awhile now, especially since the team was bought by the National Hockey League for $140 million in 2009, to relieve the debt-ridden ownership.

    According to Forbes, the Coyotes value is only $134 million. A couple of buyers have been rumored to have been interested in the team, but haven’t been able to reach an agreement with the City of Glendale, who own the Jobing.com arena where the Coyotes play, or the NHL.

    The team has been operating on a deficit for the last decade and the NHL reportedly had to loan them $35 million, even after purchasing the team, just to get them through this season. Despite these conditions, Matthew Hulsizer, a Chicago businessman, is interested in buying the team.

    Supposedly, he has already worked out a deal with the City of Glendale regarding the arena, but has yet to reach a deal with the NHL on the terms of purchase. Sources say Hulsizer doesn’t want to spend over $170 million on the team, but the NHL doesn’t want to accept anything under $175 (in order to recoup the $140 million they spent to buy the team and then the $35 million loan).

    That’s an awful lot of dough to spend on a team running on a $20 million deficit this year that has steadily lost value since 2003. The NHL wants to recoup the money they’ve put into the team, but beggars can’t be choosers, and $170 million is more than the team is even worth, in all honesty.

    Take the deal—a $5 million loss isn’t as bad as the headache for maintaining the team and moving the franchise to Canada. And here’s an idea to increase gate revenue: Since the Coyotes play in the desert, turn off all the A/C units of the surrounding areas and then advertise the hockey arena as a bargain place to come cool off. I bet they could reach record attendance.

9. Dallas Stars

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    DALLAS - MAY 19:  Center Brad Richards #91 of the Dallas Stars skates off the ice after a 4-1 loss against the Detroit Red Wings in game six of the Western Conference Finals of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 19, 2008 at the American Airlines Cen
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Businessman Tom Hicks has owned the Dallas Stars since he bought them in 1995 for $84 million. With a Forbes estimated value of $227 million, Hicks should be able to make quite the profit from a sale of the club.

    Unfortunately, Hicks is deep in debt. He used to own 50 percent of Liverpool FC and the Texas Rangers before selling them to relieve some of his debt. In August, Hicks probably could have gotten upwards of $275 million for the Stars, and even allegedly had a few buyers interested in purchasing the team.

    That was before it was found that Hicks’ company defaulted on payments for its 50 percent share in American Airlines Center. Hicks’ company’s debt, defaults and the competition in the NHL marketplace right now, will probably result in Hicks selling the team for no profit.

    There could be a good deal sitting in Dallas, though. A savvy buyer could lowball Hicks, who is already backed into a corner, to buy a team that’s seen a positive operating income for the past 10 years. The Stars are reportedly on the table as a possible candidate for relocation to Canada, but that would leave all of the Texas metropolitan areas untapped for the NHL. If they relocate anywhere, it should be over to Houston, the sixth largest market in the U.S.

    There’s a lot of opportunities for a future owner of the Stars, which should be a prime selling feature of the team.

8. Atlanta Thrashers

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    MONTREAL, CANADA - JANUARY 2:  Dustin Byfuglien #33 of the Atlanta Thrashers celebrates his overtime goal with team mates during the NHL game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on January 2, 2011 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.  The Thrashers
    Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

    This season the Atlanta Thrashers are actually looking pretty good, thanks to young talent and some offseason moves that brought a few of the champion Chicago Blackhawks to Atlanta.

    However, the Thrashers winning record hasn’t been enough of a draw to put fans in the stands. According to Forbes, the Thrashers have been operating on a deficit since 2006 and are operating on an $8 million deficit for 2010.

    And if a winning team isn’t enough of a draw, then the Atlanta Spirit owners might be looking for someone to dump the team off on (in exchange for a large sum of money of course).  

    Atlanta Spirit bought the Thrashers for $80 mil in 2004, and Forbes claims their 2010 value has reached $135 million. Their value has progressively increased year to year since the new ownership group came in, but that may be meaningless if they continue to operate on a deficit.

    And if they were to sell for $135 million, that would be a $55 million return on initial investment; not too shabby. The biggest draw for potential buyers should be the Atlanta metropolitan area. There are close to six million inhabitants of the surrounding areas, making it the ninth-largest television market in the United States.

    That means there could be lucrative television contracts available for new ownership to seek, as well as Atlanta having clout for the discussions the NHL will have when renegotiating TV contracts when their deals are up. Otherwise, the Thrashers may be relocating to Winnipeg or Quebec City.

7. Los Angeles Kings

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    LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 23:  Drew Doughty #8 of the Los Angeles Kings congratulates goaltender Jonathan Quick #32 after Quick stopped the final shot to secure the win in a shootout against the Edmonton Oilers at Staples Center on December 23, 2010 in L
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    Philip Anschutz bought the Kings in 1995 for $113 million. Anschutz also co-founded Major League Soccer, including the LA Galaxy, and owns shares of the LA Lakers and Staples Center, where both the Lakers and Kings play.

    So the Kings’ inclusion on this list might be a little out there, just because Anschutz doesn’t need the Kings to make money, since he has so many other successful ventures. Plus, the Kings finally made the playoffs last year for the first time since 2001-02 and with the young talent on that team, expect to see the Kings in the playoffs for years to come and potentially win the Stanley Cup in the near future.

    But sources claim that Anschutz is shopping for a buyer. The Kings won’t come cheap: Anschutz is seeking top dollar for the franchise, considering the top talent on their payroll. From Forbes: the operating income has been inconsistent for the Kings in recent years: it was a low $1 million in 2008, then jumped to $11 million in 2009, but fell back to $1 million for 2010.

    That could easily increase again with future Kings’ success and a possible work stoppage in the NBA. The Forbes’ value of the team is at $215 million and sources say that Anschutz won’t accept any less than $225 million. A hefty price, but a wealthy buyer should be attracted to the prime location and the talented young team. After all, wealthy buyers only want to buy the best, and what is a better location than LA?

6. St. Louis Blues

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    ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 20: Jaroslav Halak #41 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save against the Vancouver Canucks at the Scottrade Center on December 20, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Canucks beat the Blues 3-1.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Owner David Checketts bought the Blues in 2006 for $150 million. Unfortunately, the economy went down the toilet shortly thereafter, and no one was immune. And then his biggest investor, a private equity firm that has a 75 percent share in the team, decided they were ready to sell their share of the investment.

    Now Checketts needs to replace that investment with money from new investors. The problem is the Blues don’t have very good selling features, and there’s less interest since it’s harder to finance such a large transaction in a bad economy.

    Plus, they’re not a great team—they have failed to reach the playoffs four of their last five seasons, and in 2008 when they did qualify, they were swept out of the first round. And they’ve been operating on a deficit since Checketts bought the team.

    Additionally, there are better bargains currently on the NHL market. Forbes’ value of the current St. Louis Blues is $165 million—not that big of an increase for what Checketts bought them for and an $11 million decrease in value from last year. If there is a buyer out there interested after those dismal figures, Checketts would appreciate the relief.

5. Nashville Predators

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    NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 02:  Colin Wilson #33, Shea Weber, Sergei Kostitsyn, and Kevin Klein #8 of the Nashville Predators celebrate a Kostitsyn goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 2, 2011 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.  (
    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    Thomas Cigarran and investors bought the Nashville Predators in 2007 for $174 million, and they’ve remained operating on a deficit ever since. Plus, their ownership group has had a few scandals since.

    First, the Predators sued Sommet Group for not paying for the naming rights of Sommet Center. Then, in the midst of this lawsuit, it was released that David Freeman, one of the principal owners of the Predators, owed $3.3 million in back taxes to the IRS. Freeman claimed he was in debt due to money he put into the Predators when other investors went bankrupt.

    One of those investors who went bankrupt was William “Boots” Del Biaggio, who was bought out and is currently serving prison time for fraud charges. After all these scandals, it might be a good time for the remaining owners to sell and start fresh.

    Forbes estimates the Predators’ value at $148 million, but their value has been declining the past couple years, so if they can generate interest, it might be in the owners’ best interests to sell now, to get as much as they can back.

    Of course, the team is hardly worth anywhere near what Cigarran and company paid in 2007, so that’s a hard decision for them to make. The franchise has never made it past the first round in the playoffs, most recently losing in the first round to the Blackhawks last year. And their arena’s attendance was fifth lowest in the league last season, but they still qualified for revenue sharing split last season. They may not be the best deal around, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see a sale in Nashville.

4. Carolina Hurricanes

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    TORONTO, ON - DECEMBER 28:  Patrick Dwyer #39 of the Carolina Hurricanes scores the go ahead goal in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on December 28, 2010 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario. The Hurricanes defeated the Leafs 4-3. (Photo by
    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    It wasn’t that long ago that the Hurricanes were celebrating their Stanley Cup win—also the season that they celebrated a return from the lockout. But they’ve slowly deteriorated in the seasons that followed, only making the playoffs one season since and getting swept in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

    They have also run deficit operating budgets every year since that Cup win. Peter Karmanos bought the team in 1994 for $48 million and could stand to make a good deal if Forbes is correct in their current value of $162 million.

    The team has lowered their payroll to just above the league mandated minimum of $45 million, in hopes of courting a buyer for half of the team, after Karmanos’ partner, Tom Thewes passed away two years ago.

    Rumor has it Karmanos is considering selling his half as well, despite his claims to the contrary. Another deal the team made in hopes of attracting a buyer was to extend their lease on their building, RBC Center, through 2024, another selling feature because a new owner wouldn’t have to worry about coming up with the capital to build a new arena right away.

    Thanks to astute current ownership, the Carolina Hurricanes could be the best bargain on this list!

3. New Jersey Devils

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    NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 31:  Anton Volchenkov #28 of the New Jersey Devils skates against the Atlanta Thrashers at the Prudential Center on December 31, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Jeffrey Vanderbeek achieved every sports fan’s fantasy: the longtime Devils fan and season ticket holder purchased stock in the team in 2000 when he was an executive at Lehman Brothers, before buying the team outright in 2004 for $125 million (and then resigned from Lehman Brothers to concentrate fully on the team, thus avoiding the messy financial scandals there a few years later).

    Unfortunately, since the economy tanked, his investors are strapped for cash and the only way the team turned a profit last year was due to a lucrative broadcast deal because of their prime market placement, just outside of New York City.

    The team has also taken control of Prudential Center, where they can increase revenue from non-hockey events, including rent from their tenants, the New Jersey Nets.

    However, due to poor showing in the playoffs the past few seasons (they haven’t gotten out of the first round the last three seasons), a poor, injury-plagued season this year (which they likely won’t be able to recover from considering their strong Atlantic Division opponents) and poor public standing following the Kovalchuk deal, Vanderbeek should look to make a sale. Despite the potential for increased revenue from Prudential Center, Forbes shows a decline in value from last year, which will only decline further the worse the Devils play.

2. New York Islanders

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    UNIONDALE, NY - DECEMBER 29:  Arron Asham #45 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against Zenon Konopka #28 of the New York Islanders at the Nassau Coliseum on December 29, 2010 in Uniondale, New York. The Islanders defeated the Penguins 2-1 in the shootout
    Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

    The NY Islanders are a sad tale. They have a lot of close competition: the Rangers close-by in the city and the Devils in nearby New Jersey and more often than not, the Islanders just fall short to these teams.

    Since purchasing the team in 2000 and buying out his co-purchaser in 2005, Charles Wang has shoveled money into the franchise fruitlessly. He has attempted several times unsuccessfully to get a new arena built (the Islanders’ building was built in 1972, the second oldest in the NHL), even looking into moving the team to another city, if another city was willing to finance the construction of a new arena.

    The city made a good deal on the current lease of Nassau Coliseum but it wasn’t such a good deal for the Islanders—the lease gives them very little revenue from their own building. For the ownership, 2015, when the lease is up, can’t come fast enough.

    While Wang insists that he is committed to the team, and they aren’t for sale, it’s hard to believe that he will hold on to the team and keep spending money on it, while getting basically nothing in return. The team has been operating on a deficit every year but one since Wang took over.

    Admittedly they have made some progress on the deficit: it has gotten smaller in the past couple years, but a deficit is still a deficit.  If Wang can’t get any city to finance a new arena for the team, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him walk away. And the Islanders' close proximity to the large market of New York should be a selling feature for the team.

1. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    NASHVILLE, TN - JANUARY 02:  Francis Bouillon #51 of the Nashville Predators tries to get position on Chris Clark #71 of the Columbus Blue Jackets on January 2, 2011 at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Imag
    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    It seemed like such a good idea to bring an NHL franchise to Columbus. After all, the entire state of Ohio was an untapped reserve of potential hockey fans and the city of Columbus did not have any professional teams of any of the major sports.

    But the NHL and owners overestimated the amount of interest hockey could generate in the Columbus market and failed to take into consideration the rabid Ohio State fans (Ohio State sports are really all this town needs).

    Last season, the Blue Jackets were operating on a deficit for the fifth consecutive year. Plus, their arena is 90 percent owned by Nationwide Insurance LLC, meaning that 90 percent of the building's revenue goes to Nationwide, not the Blue Jackets.

    John P. McConnell inherited a lot of debt from his father’s team upon his death in 2008. The elder McConnell purchased the Blue Jackets franchise in 1997 for $80 million, and if the younger McConnell were to sell the team at their current Forbes value of $153 million, he could get a reasonable price.

    It would be hard to sell the memory of his father, but it’s better than continuing the debt—especially since after last year’s losing season, the Blue Jackets saw a 25 percent drop in season ticket sales this season. That number will continue to drop as the team continues to drop games.

    The team is named for the Native American warrior Blue Jacket, because he never gave up. But perhaps it’s time for McConnell to give up.

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