NHL Minimum Salary for 2023 – Who Has the Lowest NHL Salary?

Posted on February 23, 2024 by Dan Kent
Max Pacioretty

You've likely read about the multi-million dollar contracts signed by famous NHL players such as Austen Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Nathan MacKinnon of the Colorado Avalanche, and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers. 

However, have you ever wondered which NHL players are at the bottom of the pay scale and how much they make down there? There are many, but you don't tend to find articles about these somewhat underwhelming deals.

What is the lowest salary in the NHL?

For the 2022-2023 NHL season, the lowest salary for a player was $750,000. This number is determined by the collective bargaining agreement set by the NHL and the NHLPA on behalf of the players. Around 10% of players on an NHL roster made this salary. This number is set to rise every couple of years to ensure the players are getting fair compensation.

What is the NHL rookie minimum salary?

An entry-level contract given to players 24 years and younger has a minimum of $750,000 and a maximum of $925,000 for the 2022-2023 NHL season. 

Keep in mind, however, rookie contracts are often full of performance bonuses, bonuses that could increase the player's salary to nearly $3 million, which would impact the AAV of the contract. Depending on your age, the length of the contract can also vary.

If you are 18-21 years of age, a three-year term is required. If you're 22-23 years old, a two-year term. And finally, teams signing players 24 years old are only required to sign them to one-year contract.

Why is there a league minimum in the NHL?

NHL League Minimum Salary

Photo by IQRemix licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Due to the potential short-term nature of the game of ice hockey, it benefits players to have a guaranteed salary level to protect them in the case of an unexpected early retirement

Unfortunately, injuries are common in this highly physical game, and players understandably want to make as much as possible quickly.

The NHLPA is the player's association that negotiates on their behalf. The goal is to ensure that players are protected and fairly treated and get adequately compensated for the risks they take every time they step out onto the ice.

With the average career length of an NHL player hovering around five years, the player would still have the potential to make several million in total at a rate of $750,000 a year. If invested and saved wisely, this money could care for the player and their family for the rest of their lives.

Players of a sports league greatly benefit when a guaranteed minimum salary is in place. This means that they go in knowing what they will at least make for their time spent playing — and there is often plenty of room to show your worth and sign a much larger contract.

The NHL has a decent minimum salary of $750,000, considering its overall revenue is significantly smaller than other major sports leagues such as the NFL, NBA, and MLB. Players are relatively well taken care of, and the NHLPA ensures they get a good deal.

Which Players Make the League Minimum?

As of the end of the 2022-2023 NHL season, 75 players made the league minimum in the National Hockey League. If we look at active players in the league, this is about 10% of the National Hockey League's player base.

Keep in mind this also factors in things like signing bonuses. Although someone like Auston Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs is making league minimum despite being one of the game's stars, most of his salary is in the form of a signing bonus, so I didn't include him in the numbers above.

If we factor in outright salaries and ignore bonuses, around 150 players are being paid the league minimum salary as of the end of 2022-2023.

You likely wouldn't recognize many of the names on the list of players making the current NHL minimum salary. However, many veterans on the list, such as Eric Staal and Alex Edler, once solid NHL players, are simply veterans playing out their last few years in the league. The remainder is primarily full of rookies and fringe NHLers.

Why do veterans take lower NHL salaries?

Veteran players may opt for the lower salary to play for a team they enjoy being on — and perhaps even have a last shot at winning the Stanley Cup

Because there is a salary cap in the NHL, a veteran who has already made a significant amount of money may sign for cheap to allow that team more flexibility and money to spend on other players to be more competitive.

Some household NHL player names that took the league minimum recently include Zdeno Chara, Jason Spezza, and Joe Thornton. Although none are playing now, this is a perfect example, as Chara and Thornton are undoubtedly headed to the Hockey Hall of Fame.

On the other hand, rookies who are just entering the league and haven't made a name for themselves yet are likely to be paid at the lower end until they make their name known by proving their worth for a team to want to invest in them. However, they still have ample opportunity to get a pay raise and sign a more extensive contract within a year or two.

Blackhawks Practice Photo

Photo by Mark Mauno licensed under Public Domain Mark 1.0

Who is highest paid NHL player?

Nathan MacKinnon signed an 8-year deal worth $100.8 million in late 2022 to make him the highest-paid NHL player. Although the actual dollar amounts each year varies, MacKinnon's cap hit is $12.6 million.

Before this, Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers was the highest-paid player in the league, with a cap hit of $12.5 million.

Although MacKinnon is the highest-paid player, his deal was not the largest. Alex Ovechkin signed a $124 million contract with the Washington Capitals, Shea Weber a $110 million contract with the Predators, and Sidney Crosby a $104.4 million contract with the Penguins.

The only difference being when these contracts were signed, teams were allowed to extend players for longer than 7 or 8 years. It is unlikely we see a deal of Ovechkin's size anytime soon in the NHL, at least until the salary cap goes up materially.

For Ovechkin's $124 million deal to be matched, it would carry a cap hit of $15.5 million, or 18.7% of the NHL's total salary cap in 2022-23. So although it is possible, as the maximum salary in the NHL is $16.5 million, it is unlikely any team would award this deal.

Is the NHL the lowest-paid sport?

Yes, the NHL is one of North America's lowest-paid professional sports. In the United States, sports like Basketball, Football, and Major League Baseball take precedence over hockey. Unfortunately for hockey players, broadcasting rights bring in much of the league's revenue.

However, with the NHL returning to ESPN in 2021, it is clear that hockey is catching on in a big way in the United States, which will ultimately end up with more money being directed toward the players.

Please make no mistake about it, though, NHL players are still well compensated. Let's go over that below.

What is the average salary of an NHL player?

The average salary of NHL players is over $3.15 million a year — which isn't a small sum. Despite paying out less money overall to players, the NHL has the same minimum salary as the National Football League at $750,000.

The NHL salary cap is based on the total revenue from the prior season. When you consider that the NFL has a larger audience and garners more revenue through tickets and advertisements, the deal that the NHLPA negotiated for the players is quite a good one.

What determines the league minimum salary in the NHL?

It wasn't until 2005, after a lockout that lasted an entire season, that the NHL and NHLPA finalized an initial collective bargaining agreement. One of the most extensive negotiations was around introducing a salary cap — which would protect players and guarantee a minimum "fair" salary.

At the time, the minimum salary jumped from $180,000 to $450,000, a significant difference that greatly benefited the players. This minimum salary was set to go up by $25,000 every two years, ensuring that players continued to get fair compensation for their participation in the league.

How much does an AHL player make?

AHL player salaries vary wildly. However, someone signed to an American Hockey League deal can expect to make anywhere from $31,000 as a fringe player to $100,000 as an elite player. 

Those on NHL deals, mainly one-way contracts, could make their full NHL salary in the AHL. Those on a two-way contract will typically structure their contracts so they make a particular percentage of their NHL salary if they get sent to the minors.

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.

Looking for more hockey content? Have a look at these articles