The NHL is making so much money

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OK, here’s what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

The NHL is making more money than ever

A lot more, according to Forbes. The business-focused media company did its annual audit of the league’s finances and found that the average team’s operating income (its profit, roughly) for the most recent season was $25 million US. That’s up from $18 million the year before — an increase of 39 per cent.

So how do they do it? The turning point, Forbes says, was the 2012-13 lockout. It wiped out half the season, but the owners persuaded the players to give them 50 per cent of hockey-related revenue (their cut had been 43 per cent). The average team immediately almost doubled its profit from the last full season and they haven’t looked back.

But last season was especially good to the owners for a few reasons. The biggest, Forbes says, was the expansion team in Las Vegas. The Golden Knights made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final and turned a profit of $53 million — fifth-highest in the league. Vegas’ ownership raised eyebrows when it paid a $500-million expansion fee, but the team is already worth $575 million, according to Forbes. Another big factor: Washington and Buffalo both doubled their local TV rights deals, to an average of $35 million and $25 million a year, respectively. The league could be looking for its own two-fold bump when its U.S. national TV deal expires in a few years. NBC currently pays an average of $187 million a year.

As a result, the average team’s value rose six per cent, to a record $630 million. The Rangers ($1.55 billion), Leafs ($1.45B) and Canadiens ($1.3B) are still the three most valuable teams. Winnipeg, despite an 11 per cent jump, is still the least-valuable Canadian franchise ($415M). But the Jets still rank ahead of four American teams — including Arizona ($290M), which is at the bottom. The Coyotes and Florida Panthers were the only franchises to lose value, according to Forbes.

And there’s more money — but also trouble — on the horizon. The NHL announced this week it’s expanding to Seattle for the 2021-22 season. Thanks to Vegas, the expansion fee (which owners don’t share with the players) went up to $650 million. The owners will soon get a chance to gobble an even bigger slice of the revenue pie as both they and the players have the option to end their collective bargaining agreement before the start of the 2020-21 season. Commissioner Gary Bettman always seems to come out ahead when negotiating a new CBA — by any means necessary. He’s presided over three lockouts, including one that wiped out an entire season. That ruthlessness bodes well for the owners’ bank accounts — but it’s not so great for the rest of us who just want to watch some NHL hockey.

More labour negotiations? Exxxxcellent. (Martti Kainulainen/Lehtikuva via Associated Press)

Quickly…

William Nylander will finally play for the Leafs tonight. The newly signed forward is expected to make his season debut when Toronto hosts Detroit. After a long standoff, Nylander and the Leafs agreed to a six-year deal worth about $42 million US just before Saturday’s deadline for him to be eligible to play this season (he thinks they had only seven minutes to spare). And it looks like there are no hard feelings from coach Mike Babcock — he’s putting Nylander on a line with superstar Auston Matthews and Patrick Marleau.

A big figure skating event starts tonight in Vancouver. The Grand Prix Final is the top international meet of the season outside of the world championships in March. And it’s more exclusive — only the top six in each competition are invited. The action begins with the men’s short skate at 10:45 p.m. ET (you can stream it live, with play-by-play from Canadian analyst Pj Kwong, on CBCSports.ca). Two-time Olympic champ Yuzuru Hanyu is sidelined with an injury, but his withdrawal opened up a spot for alternate Keegan Messing, who’s the only Canadian competing in any of the Final events. The women’s short skate goes at midnight ET. Olympic champ Alina Zagitova is the one to beat, but look out for Japan’s Rika Kihira. She’s only 16 but can already land a triple Axel in combination with another triple — a rarity among women. The pairs and dance competitions start tomorrow night. Pj wrote a preview if you want to go more in depth.

Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta., will host the 2021 world junior hockey tournament. That’s the one two years from now (the event always starts on Boxing Day and stretches into the new year, so they name them by the year in which they end). Canada has hosted the tournament every other year since 2015. This year’s is in Vancouver and Victoria, and it shifts to the Czech Republic next year. It’s no secret why organizers want it in Canada so often — the tournament is a big deal here… and pretty much nowhere else. Games in Canada can sell out NHL arenas and draw bigger, primetime TV audiences.

There was a pretty important baseball trade. Arizona sent Paul Goldschmidt, who’s one of the best first basemen in the game, to St. Louis for three youngsters/prospects. Over the last seven years, Canadian Joey Votto is the only National League hitter with a higher OPS (that’s one of the better stats for measuring a batter’s overall impact). Goldschmidt, who has also won three Gold Gloves for his defensive ability, has one year left on his contract before he becomes a free agent.

A dog-sledding champ was cleared of doping his dogs. Officials with the Iditarod, which is the world’s biggest dog-sled race, absolved four-time winner Dallas Seavey of any wrongdoing after four of his pooches tested positive for an opioid painkiller right after he finished second in March 2017. Neither the musher (that’s what they call the people who pilot the dog sleds) nor the Iditarod president would say exactly what they think happened, but the latter seemed to suggest that someone else drugged the dogs.


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