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

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 …

1. Toronto Maple Leafs

Team value: $1,000 million

2. New York Rangers

Team value: $750 million

3. Montreal Canadiens

Team value: $575 million

4. Chicago Blackhawks

Team value: $350 million

5. Boston Bruins

Team value: $348 million

6. Detroit Red Wings

Team value: $346 million

7. Vancouver Canucks

Team value: $342 million

8. Philadelphia Flyers

Team value: $336 million

9. Pittsburgh Penguins

Team value: $288 million

10. Los Angeles Kings

Team value: $276 million

11. Washington Capitals

Team value: $250 million

12. Calgary Flames

Team value: $245 million

13. Dallas Stars

Team value: $240 million

14. Edmonton Oilers

Team value: $225 million

15. San Jose Sharks

Team value: $223 million

16. Ottawa Senators

Team value: $220 million

17. Minnesota Wild

Team value: $218 million

18. Colorado Avalanche

Team value: $210 million

19. New Jersey Devils

Team value: $205 million

20. Winnipeg Jets

Team value: $200 million

21. Anaheim Ducks

Team value: $192 million

22. Buffalo Sabres

Team value: $175 million

23. Tampa Bay Lightning

Team value: $174 million

24. Florida Panthers

Team value: $170 million

25. Nashville Predators

Team value: $167 million

26. Carolina Hurricanes

Team value: $162 million

27. New York Islanders

Team value: $155 million

28. Columbus Blue Jackets

Team value: $145 million

29. Phoenix Coyotes

Team value: $134 million

30. St. Louis Blues

Team value: $130 million

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