Toronto Maple Leafs are first NHL team worth $1 billion, or $870 million more than St. Louis (Puck Daddy)

The annual Forbes team valuations for the National Hockey League have been released at the most awkward time possible, i.e. as the NHL locks out its players. As revenue sharing has been a topic throughout the CBA talks, so has the disparity in value between the League's top teams and its weaker markets. Forbes underscored that in its latest findings: The spread between the rich and poor teams is dramatic. The top five teams—Maple Leafs ($1 billion), New York Rangers  ($750 million), Montreal Canadiens ($575 million), Chicago Blackhawks ($350 million) and Boston Bruins ($348 million)—are worth $605 million, on average. The five least valuable—Carolina Hurricanes ($162 million), New York Islanders ($155 million), Columbus Blue Jackets ($145 million), Phoenix Coyotes ($134 million) and St. Louis Blues ($130 million)—are worth just $145 million, on average. The NHL's three most profitable teams — Maple Leafs ($81.9 million), Rangers ($74 million), Canadiens ($51.6 million) — accounted for 83 percent of the league's operating income, according to Forbes. Wow. Following their sale to Rogers and Bell, the Maple Leafs became the first NHL franchise to be valued at $1 billion. The total sale of MLSE was $2.05 billion, which included the Raptors and their arena. By comparison, the NFL has 20 teams worth $1 billion or more; Major League Baseball has three teams (Yankees, Dodgers and Red Sox) and the NBA has none, although the Lakers were at $900 million in the last valuation. Congrats again to the Leafs for breaking the billion dollar barrier. Imagine if they didn't have a GM with a bunch of made-up rules for why he won't take on elephantine contracts. The full Forbes list for 2012 …

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