How Much Do NHL Coaches Make? NHL Coach Salary in 2023

Posted on February 27, 2024 by Dan Kent
NHL Coach

It's a common topic of conversation for hockey fans to discuss how much the top players in the league are bringing in per year — but have you ever been curious about how much the coaches are making? 

Unlike the players, the coaching staff does not need to have their salary officially available to the public.

How much do NHL head coaches make?

NHL head coaches can make between $1M and $6M — with an average salary between $2M to $2.5M. However, it is essential to note that not all head coach salaries are publicly available. 

This is the lowest amount of pay in major professional leagues. A quick example would be NBA coaches. The average coach's salary in the NBA is around $3.5 million, with some of the best coaches making upwards of $12 million.

Who is the highest-paid coach in the NHL?

As of the end of the 2022-23 season, Todd McLellan of the Los Angeles Kings is the highest-paid coach in the National Hockey League at $5M per season. 

Keep in mind there could be coaches that have higher salaries than McLellan. However, because not all coach's salaries are displayed publicly, the information from Cap Friendly is all I have to go off of.

Who are the highest-paid coaches?

Other than McLellan, here are the other five coaches with the highest publicly listed salaries in the NHL:

  • Peter Laviolette, Washington Capital, $4.9M
  • Bruce Cassidy, Las Vegas Golden Knights, $4.5M
  • Peter DeBoer, Dallas Stars, $4.25M
  • John Tortorella, Philadelphia Flyers, $4M
  • Paul Maurice, Florida Panthers, $3.9M
  • Gerard Gallant, New York Rangers, $3.5M
  • Martin St Louis, Montreal Canadiens, $3M

Of note, Joel Quenneville used to be the highest-paid coach in the NHL at $5.25M. However, he resigned from coaching the Florida Panthers in 2021 after being implicated in a sexual assault situation with the Chicago Blackhawks.

What was the biggest contract given to an NHL coach?

The Toronto Maple Leafs signed an unprecedented deal with then-head coach Mike Babcock in 2015 — an 8-year 50 million dollar contract. This was and still is the largest contract awarded to an NHL head coach. It's basically in NFL head coach territory.

The Leafs fired him as head coach halfway through year five of the contract. However, thanks to his guaranteed contract, he'll still collect his salary through the end of his agreed term.

How much do assistant NHL hockey coaches make?

An assistant coach's salary can be upwards of six figures. So although this is certainly not as much as an NHL coach's salary, they are well-positioned to become the next head coach after gaining the necessary experience.

Assistant-Coach

Mike Vernon - Assistant Coach Photo by 5of7 licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Like other sports, head coaches often have various assistant coaches who work with them to ensure the team is effectively handled. Assistant coaches often help to prepare game strategies and plan practice scenarios for the players.

While assistant coaches often bring in significantly less than their seven-figure head coaches, they are gaining valuable experience and knowledge of the inner workings of hockey coaching at a high level.

The big caveat for assistant coaching is that if the head coach gets fired, the assistant coach may lose their job as well. 

Head coaches often can hire their own team to work with, which means the next head coach will likely want to bring in their assistant coaches and staff.

What is the difference between an NHL assistant coach and an associate coach?

An associate coach is an assistant coach that is higher on the hierarchy. What this means is that if a head coach is fired, takes a leave of absence, or misses some games, the associate coach will step in and take over in their absence.

This could end up being permanent if a coach is fired or possibly temporarily in the event a team starts a new search for a head coach. A team could have a couple of assistant coaches but will typically only have one associate coach.

Associate coaches are a rarity in the NHL, however. Very few teams deploy them.

How is an NHL coach’s contract structured?

Coaches sign a guaranteed contract. This means that even if the coach is fired midway through their contract, they're still paid for the entirety of it. Often, a coach may refuse to sign with a team if they aren't offered a guaranteed contract.

When a team is on a losing streak, the coach is often the first person to take the blame for it. With the ability of the tides to turn on them quickly and fiercely, coaches want to protect themselves understandably.

If a coach is fired from one team and another team seeks them out to possibly hire them, they will have to go through the previous team as the coach is still technically under contract with them. This may lead to sharing costs between said teams for the remainder of the coach's contract or even compensation.

We witnessed this back in 2015 when the Edmonton Oilers had to pay compensation for then coach Todd McLellan, who had been fired from the San Jose Sharks. They also had to pay compensation to hire general manager Peter Chiarelli in the same year.

Does the NHL salary cap include coaches?

No, it does not. Coaches' salaries are not required to be public and also are not counted towards a team's overall salary cap. That is reserved for the players of the team. 

Why Aren’t Head Coach Salaries Made Public?

It wasn't until 1989 that player salaries were made public information. Players decided to make their earnings known to help push the wages higher as a whole and so that they could more effectively bargain.

Coaches don't have a union, so they aren't under the same rules and regulations as the players. This means they don't need to publish their salary or contract negotiations. However, through some investigative reporting and determined local reporters — there is often a good idea of what a head coach signed for.

How Long Do Head Coaches Last in the NHL?

NHL coaches have one of the highest turnover rates compared to other professional sports. The average length of an NHL head coach's tenure is just under two and a half years. 

It isn't uncommon for a coach to be fired partially through a season so the team can go in a different direction under a new head coach.

Looking at the current active coaching roster in the NHL, over half of the coaches have been hired within the last few years. This position has very little job security, making the guaranteed contract even more critical for prospective coaches looking to join an NHL team.

Photo by Dov Harrington licensed under CC BY 2.0

Guaranteed Salary with a High Turnover Rate

While coaching at the National Hockey League level can be profoundly fulfilling when your team goes all the way and wins the coveted Stanley Cup — it can also lead to a great deal of stress and uncertainty when it goes the other way. 

Being an ice hockey coach is not an easy task. Hockey is the ultimate team sport; sometimes, a coach can do everything right yet not produce any results.

NHL head coaches rarely can stay comfortable for long in their position, which is why a guaranteed contract agreement is usually a priority for them. When a coach brings in several million, they'll likely want to hold onto that for as long as possible. 

If the tides shift and their team is on a losing streak, they'll be grateful they can still collect their salary once they're inevitably fired.

Dan Kent

About the author

Growing up in a hockey hotbed (Calgary, Alberta. And yes, I'm an Oiler fan), I decided to put my love and knowledge of the game to work. I started at five and am still playing today into my early 30s. By acquiring Brave Stick Hockey and rebranding it to Big Shot Hockey in 2023, I plan to teach people about this great game and educate them on the best equipment and history of the game. On a career level, I am in finance, running one of the largest financial websites in Canada, Stocktrades.ca.

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