Which NHL teams are best buys?

Updated: November 30, 2012, 6:35 PM ET
By Craig Custance

First, let's establish the difficulty of the undertaking. What Forbes tries to do with its annual NHL franchise valuations isn't easy. NHL teams aren't eager to open their books to public scrutiny, and accounting practices probably vary from team to team.

After Forbes released its NHL franchise values on Wednesday, I checked in with a trusted source to see how accurately they typically reflect reality with his team. By his estimation, gate receipts numbers were off by about $6 million. Operating income was off by about $12 million. It's not a perfect exercise.

As for the value of the team, that's not something known for a certainty until it's sold.

"The actual price the franchises sell for is never close to those estimates. They're usually low," said economist Brad Humphreys of the University of Alberta. "I give those guys some credit, that's a tough exercise they've set out to do. They're forecasting franchise values when we have zero reliable information about the revenue streams. That's difficult."

But it makes for interesting reading. And interesting debate. One thing the valuations are a good measure of is the general pecking order of franchise values in the NHL. You can argue whether or not the Toronto Maple Leafs are worth $1 billion but it's probably a safe assumption that Toronto is the NHL's most valuable franchise. It's tough to argue any of the top five -- Toronto, New York, Montreal, Chicago and Boston.

The list also raises another interesting question: Where is value among NHL franchises? For those who have a spare couple of million, where should they be looking to invest?

To see which factors best appreciate a team's value and which franchises could be the best buys, you must be an ESPN Insider.