Analysis of the NHL’s Money-Losing Teams (Part One).

An overview of the NHL’s money-losing franchises in hopes of better understanding the factors behind eighteen NHL teams losing money in 2010-11.

One of the main issues driving the current NHL-NHLPA CBA negotiations is the growing number of teams losing money.

Back in November 2011, Forbes.com released its annual “The Business of Hockey” report for 2010-11, listing eighteen NHL franchises which lost money.

We’ll have to wait until November for their report on the 2011-12 NHL season to determine if this total increased, decreased or remained static.

The steady increase in money-losing franchises over the course of the current collective bargain agreement is the reason behind the push by the NHLPA for increased revenue sharing, and why the league wants to reduce the players share of hockey-related revenue and increase their escrow payments.

What follows is my attempt to understand why eighteen NHL teams lost money under a CBA the league claimed would benefit all its franchises.

In Part One, a listing of all the NHL franchises, based up the respective operating incomes (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) provided by Forbes.com, from 2005-06 to 2010-11.

2005-06.

The number of money-losing NHL franchises in 2005-06 was eight. Those teams were the Anaheim Ducks (-0.2), Nashville Predators (-1.1), Florida Panthers (-1.9), Columbus Blue Jackets (-4.0), Atlanta Thrashers (-5.4), Phoenix Coyotes (-6.0), New Jersey Devils (-6.7) and NY Islanders (-9.2).

2006-07.

The number nearly doubled, with fifteen teams losing money. The Blue Jackets (-5.6), Thrashers (-6.5), Panthers (-7.1),  – Predators (-9.4), Coyotes (-11.4), Islanders (-11.6) and Devils (-15.3) made the list again.

Joining them were the Boston Bruins (-0.6), Calgary Flames (-0.7), Minnesota Wild (-1.7), Chicago Blackhawks (-3.6), Buffalo Sabres (-4.9), San Jose Sharks (-5.1)  St. Louis Blues (-5.5), and the Carolina Hurricanes (-7.5), who were the defending Stanley Cup champions that season.

2007-08.

The number fell slightly to twelve for 2007-08. The Predators (-1.3), Thrashers (-6.1), Blue Jackets (-7.1), Islanders (-8.8), Panthers (-9.4), and Coyotes (-9.7) made the list for the third consecutive season.

The Bruins (-3.0), Blues (-8.6), Sabres (-8.9) and Hurricanes (-11.5) made the list for the second straight season.

The Philadelphia Flyers (-1.8) and Washington Capitals (-6.9) made the list for the first time.

2008-09

The number rose to fourteen teams. The usual suspects – Thrashers (-1.8), Hurricanes (-4.6), Islanders (-5.6), Predators (-5.7), Blue Jackets (-9.9), Panthers (-13.6) and Coyotes (-18.5) – were there, as were the Blues (-2.7), Sabres (-5.2) and Capitals (-4.9).

Returning to the list were the Flames (-0.8) and Sharks (-5.0), while the Ottawa Senators (-3.8) and Tampa Bay Lightning (-2.2) made their debuts.

2009-10

The list grew to sixteen teams. Of course, the regulars – Islanders (-4.5), Predators (-5.5), Hurricanes (-7.3), Blue Jackets (-7.3), Thrashers (-8.0), Panthers (-9.6) and Coyotes (-20.1) – were there, while the Blues (-6.2), Sabres (-7.9) and Capitals (-9.1) made the list for the third straight season.

The Senators (-3.8), Sharks (-6.2) and Lightning (-7.9) returned for the second straight year, while the Wild (-2.3) returned for the second time in four years, and the Ducks (-5.2) returned for the second time in five seasons.

The Pittsburgh Penguins – defending Stanley Cup Champions that season – made the list for the first time (-1.6).

2010-11

The list grew to eighteen teams. The Hurricanes (-4.4), Thrashers (-5.2 in their final season in Atlanta before relocating to Winnipeg), Panthers (-7), Predators (-7.5), Islanders (-8.1), Blue Jackets (-13.7) and Coyotes (-24.4) were there, as were the Blues (-2.7), Sabres (-5.6) and Capitals (-7.5).

The Penguins made the list for the second straight year (-0.2), as did the Wild (-5.9) and Ducks (-8.4). The Sharks (-7.8) and Lightning (-8.5) were there for the third consecutive season, while the Devils (-6.1) returned after a three-season absence. Making the list for the first time were the Dallas Stars (-1.1) and Los Angeles Kings (-2).

The escalation in players salaries is cited as the prime reason why these teams are losing money, especially those in struggling markets which find it difficult to keep pace with the ever-rising cap floor.

Other factors, however, also contributed to these teams’ appearances on the negative side of the ledger.

In Part Two, a look at the perennial money-losing teams.

9 Comments

  1. I wonder how much the loses are really losses with some of these teams… I mean I once saw an article that mentioned a team that owned the area plus another team in another sport and reported the hockey team as the loss, even though the owners of the hockey team owns the area to which the team pays rent to.

    I just wonder exactly how these profits and losses are really being counted. It’s sort of like how the owners want to redefine what is HRR and what is not.

  2. A better review of these teams, would be to correlate these data with how many of these teams spent to the cap.

    The number of stanley cup winning teams and other teams with ludicrous budgets (SJS, Boston, Pens, WSH) etc. complain that they are losing a few million here and there. A simple fix, don’t spend to the cap. I agree that a league where half the teams are losing money is critically flawed. However, these data simply lend to the belief that the only help the owners need, is from hurting themselves. Most of the loses (aside from perhaps, the Isles, Pheonix, etc.) could have been avoided entirely by simply not spending a few extra million on players that weren’t worth it.

    Lesson to be learnt? GM’s/owners need to learn some fiscal restraint, and everything can proceed hunky-dorey, with only 3/4 teams representing situations that are beyond behing helped by better management. Which may be more suggestive of these teams needing relocation than a complete CBA restructuring.

    • That will be duly noted in future posts. This is merely the first of a series on the subject.

  3. Interesting read Lyle. Thanks for it.

    I find it interesting that Columbus consistantly increased in their losses, but in 09-10 they actually decreased that loss. Is it due to fiscal year or actual “season” year. I know in the 08-09 season they made the playoffs, so does this account for the decreased losses?

  4. Interesting article, however Lyle, i really think “Ron Moore” is asking a very important question. I know, for sure, the Hurricanes have two separate corporations involved in the team, arena, and overall “business of hockey”. I’m pretty sure that similar structures exist for other teams in the league. As a part of this “creative accounting”, reported losses are much more ON PAPER losses, rather than anyone losing big money. Remember, business’s have always been able to “doctor the books”, for tax purposes ie. “write-downs” for depreciation (such as buildings, aging players etc)!
    Bottom-line: don’t be misled by reported earnings/ loss statements…and reality!
    The various team owners all have other (more significant) sources of income/ wealth…ie Karmanos owns Compuware. These hockey franchises are mere toys for most owners, and any perceived losses due to a lockout will be just written off!
    I and most fans have little appreciation, or understanding of hockey business and earning/ loss statements which really don’t tell us very much!

  5. I too thank you for providing this series.
    Hugely wealthy people with multiple businesses have their financial advisors work out a way to save them the most tax dollars as possible and to do that some times one of their businesses, possibly their hockey team, has to show a loss so that the overall profits from their entire business empire doesn’t lead to paying major taxes. This might be palatable except for the fact that when their hockey team records a loss, they receive money from the league to help them with their “struggling” franchise and in doing so they make it look as though the high salaries the players are making is the reason behind their failing to make money.

  6. @Captain Ahab makes a (potentially – depending on accuracy) really interesting observation.
    In an earlier Soapbox Lyle wonders if it’s the big market teams that are trying to steer the revenue sharing to come out of the players pockets. But if an owner’s goal is to have his team show a loss so that the rest of his business empire gets a tax break, it’s likely that the small market teams could be pushing for the revenue sharing to come from the payers as well… that way they can still report a loss while saving on real dollars spent on players.
    I don’t know how legitimate the idea of owners wanting to show a loss is, but it seems like a story angle worth investigating.

  7. Funny how the oilers the team that is the worst in the league has never seemed to lose money by forbes list. but their arch rivals Calgary Flames have been on there three times.Really only two Canadians team are on there,not saying that Canada is perfect with revenue.The Canadian looney has something to do with it.If it does go down all the small market Canadian teams will have trouble agin.

    I think the senators and flames had issues those years because of their product being so boring and also the factor is the Oilers and leafs have a better history then those to franchises.