What Is the NHL Minimum Salary? And How Many Players Make It


Hockey players line up for the National Anthem.

Hockey has always been known as one of the most physical sports in the world, where giant men skate at full speed, smashing their opponents into tempered glass along the way. With all the potential for harm, it makes you wonder how much these guys are getting paid.

So, what is the NHL minimum salary?

In the 2020-2021 season, the NHL minimum salary is $700,000 (USD). While this is a base minimum salary, many other factors can play into a player’s income, such as bonuses if they qualify, sponsorships, and marketing opportunities. The NHL minimum salary has increased every other year since 2005.

With that being said, let us dive deeper into how much the minimum salary has changed over time, what the average salary is in the NHL, and much more!

What Is the NHL Minimum Salary?

As stated above, the NHL minimum salary for a player is $700,000. This figure has gradually risen since the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) was put into place by the league and the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA). This CBA was an after effect of the 2004-2005 lockout in which negotiations were made regarding the players’ salaries.

Back in 2005, the minimum salary for players was $450,000 and rose by $25,000 every two years. It should be noted that the CBA mentioned above expired in the 2012-2013 season, but the player’s association renegotiated an agreement with the owners.

This agreement was set to expire Sept. 15, 2022, but due to the 2020 season being affected by the COVID-19 virus, teams and players decided to extend the 2013 CBA to the 2025-2026 season.

How Many Players in the NHL Make the Minimum Salary?

Two professional hockey players line up for a faceoff.

This statistic varies because of the many different factors associated with players making the minimum salary in the NHL, such as marketing promotions, two-way contracts, playoff pay, and other conditions in their contracts.

As of 2019, about 9% of players or 98 players in the NHL were making the NHL minimum salary. Most of the players making the minimum salary are usually:

  • Rookies entering the league
  • Veteran players that are continuing their quest for the Stanley Cup but are no longer playing in their prime
  • Tradesman players who can hold their own, but are not standouts or superstar material

What Is the Average Salary in the NHL?

The NHL, like many other large sports organizations, is well known for its exorbitant player salaries. But what is the average salary of an average NHL player? We know from above that the minimum wage for an NHL player for the 2020-2021 season is $700,000.

In the 2019-2020 season, the Minnesota Wild paid each of its players an average of $3.2 million, while the Toronto Maple Leafs paid each of its players an average of $1.5 million. As you can see, there is a wide range of player pay.

With that said, the average salary was $3 million. This is about $900,000 more than the average NFL player and is about $4 million less than the average NBA player.

Who Makes the Most Money in the NHL?

There are two different ways to look at this question; one can be the contract a player signs, including a signing bonus, among other things. You can also look at what the player will make each year because of the salary cap.

Most consider Auston Matthews’s contract as the most lucrative because he signed for five years and $58 million. This breaks down to an average cap hit of $11,640,250 a year.

However, two players earn more than him but have longer contracts.

The first is Artemi Panarin of the New York Rangers who signed an $81 million contract over seven years, which brings his cap hit $11,642,857 a year, beating Matthews by about $2,000 each year.

The second player on our list is the Edmonton Oilers captain, Connor McDavid, who signed an eight-year, $100 million contract. This averages out to $12.5 million a year.

In comparison, each of these players has different stipulations within their contracts. If we were to objectively look at the numbers, McDavid the most money in the NHL.

What Is an Entry-Level Contract in the NHL?

An entry-level contract is precisely what it sounds like, an agreement that a player signs when entering the NHL. These are generally all rookie contracts or players under the age of 25. These contracts vary depending on the age of the player.

If the player is 21 or under, the contract lasts three years. If the player is 21 or 22, their contract lasts for two years, while subsequently, a 24-year-old player signing an entry-level contract will be under contract for one year.

Rookie contracts are unique in that they can collect performance bonuses that players cannot do again until they reach the age of 35. It is important to note (generally), that these entry-level contracts are two-way contracts, meaning the player can be sent down to the American Hockey League (AHL) if the team deems it necessary.

What Is a Qualifying Offer in Hockey? 

Two professional hockey teams line up for the national anthem.

A qualifying offer is a deal used, for the most part, to help keep specific players on their roster. The agreement is based on the player’s previous salary. If the qualifying offer does not come to fruition, the player becomes an unrestricted free agent and can be approached by other teams.

The offer is calculated using the player’s base salary and the minimum salary of that season (20202-2021 minimum wage was $700,000). The qualifying offer is to keep a player working with their team without worrying about another club attempting to poach them.

The offer is usually negotiated based on several different variables. For instance, it must be a one-way offer if the player has played more than 180 games in the NHL over the past three seasons, 60 games within the last season or if the player did not clear waivers.

Teams have until the first Monday after the entry draft to submit their offers. If the player refuses the qualifying offer, they remain a restricted free agent.

What Is a One-Way Contract in Hockey?

Hockey differs from other professional sports in the way the NHL deals with its minor leagues. The NHL and the AHL have a symbiotic relationship. Players can be sent down from the NHL to the AHL if they are not performing well, have injuries, or other issues occur between the team and player.

These contracts are negotiated in two ways, one of them being the one-way contract. In a one-way contract, players still get paid the same amount they would in the NHL. These one-way contracts are meant for premier players that can hold their own in the NHL but are not expected to be moved down to the AHL.

While these one-way contracts are put into place to ensure the player is getting paid what they are worth, they can also create space in a team’s salary cap. If a player making $3 million is moved down to the AHL on a one-way contract, the team still must pay that player $3 million.

Still, it frees up $3 million in salary space for the NHL franchise.

What Is a Two-Way Contract in Hockey?

A two-way contract differs from its one-way counterpart based on player pay. If a player is on a two-way contract, they take a percentage reduction in income when they are moved down to the AHL.

All entry-level contracts are two-way deals, which makes sense because sometimes a player has star potential but fizzles out when they reach the big leagues. This usually accumulates to a 20%-50% loss in revenue for the player.

One of the reasons why these two-way contracts exist is because of how injury prominent the sport is. There are skillful players that a team might want on their roster if an injury occurs, but teams do not want to pay the $700,000 minimum it would take to keep that player on the bench.

So, teams will use the AHL to keep players playing and pay them a smaller percentage until they are summoned up from the minors to play in the show.

What Is the Salary Cap in the NHL?

A hockey puck sits on a sheet of ice.

The salary cap in the NHL is the amount teams can spend on players. The cap is in place so teams with more revenue can’t buy up all the premier players and, in turn, make the game unfair for teams that do not have as much access to team revenue.

Essentially, the cap prevents smaller market teams from getting overrun by teams with more money to spend. While the salary cap has grown each year since it was introduced in the 2004-2005 season due to the lockout, it has currently flattened out at $81.5 million. Nearly all the NHL lockouts or player strikes have revolved around player compensation and salary caps.

The NHL had gone through its trials and tribulations with player pay starting back in 1925 when players said they would not get on the ice for the Stanley Cup Finals unless they were paid a cash bonus.

Then, the marketing strike of ’92 lasted for 11 days that gave players more control of their intellectual and marketing property. Following this was the 104-day long lockout during the 1994-1995 season, where players opposed owners on things such as luxury tax.

Arguments about rookie salary caps and unrestricted free agent qualifications also took place, which the NHLPA came out on top.

The most notable lockout was in 2004-2005 when the entire season was called off due to an argument between the league and players about salary caps. While the disputes between the NHLPA and the team owners lasted the entire season, the owners came out on top with the Players Association agreeing to a salary cap.

This was a blessing in disguise for the players. Because the cap was based on league revenue, the players made lucrative deals with their salaries due to hockey’s popularity. In the 2012-2013 season, the league and players disputed who would collect a certain percentage of revenue, with both sides agreeing to a 50/50 split and other favorable stipulations to players’ pensions.

FAQ

How Much Do Hockey Players Make a Game?

The minimum salary for an NHL player in the 2020-2021 season is $700,000, while the average salary is $3 million. If you take the average of $3 million and divide it by 56 regular-season games (COVID-shortened seasoned), the average pay for an NHL player comes out to $53,571.

How Much Do NHL Players Get Paid in the Playoffs?

Teams are not allowed to give playoff bonuses to players except to those who are over 35 or on entry-level contracts. However, the NHL has what they call a “playoff bonus pool” where players are compensated for how far they make it in the playoffs.

In the 2019-2020 season, the pool reached $32 million, with $20,000 being paid to each player who lost in the first round and $240,000 for players who won the Stanley Cup.

 How Much Do Hockey Players Make in Europe?

There are A LOT of different hockey leagues in Europe. Most are mid-level competition leagues, so the pay compared to the NHL or players in Canada is relatively low.

These leagues also do not have as many rules regarding player compensation, so a player’s salary constantly fluctuates with different factors such as sponsorship deals. From France to Poland, the wages for players range from 10,000 euros up to 80,000 euros a season.

How Much Do AHL Players Make?

The average salary for the AHL is between $90-100k. Each year the minimum salary for AHL players rises. As of the 2020-2021 season, AHL players must be paid a minimum of $51,000.

Some NHL players are on one-way contracts with the NHL, which means that their team can send them down to the AHL while maintaining their regular salary, which is a minimum of $700,000.

How Much Do ECHL Players Make?

The ECHL is widely considered a step below the AHL in terms of skill and pay. Since this is considered more of a D-league, the payment is also that of other amateur sports leagues.

As of 2019, a rookie player’s minimum salary was $470 a week, while returning players were compensated a bit more with $500 a week.

How Much Do KHL Players Make?

The Kontinental Hockey League is one of the top-paying leagues in the world and is the most popular league in Europe. According to Russia’s leading hockey journalists Sport-Express, the top players in 2019 were paid an average of $1-2.3 million (USD), while newer unknown players made around $100,000 (USD).

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Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

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