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It’s likely that you’ve read all about the multi-million dollar contracts signed by popular NHL players such as Austen Matthews of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers. However, have you ever wondered which NHL players are on sub-million dollar contracts? There are quite a few, in fact, but you don’t tend to find articles written about these somewhat underwhelming deals.
For the 2020-2021 NHL season, the lowest salary for a player was $700,000. This number is determined by the collective bargaining agreement set by the NHL and the NHLPA on behalf of the players. Around 14% of players on the NHL roster made this salary — though it was raised to $750,000 for the 2021-2022 season. This number is set to rise every couple of years to ensure the players are getting fair compensation.
Which Players Make the League Minimum?
You may not even recognize many of the names on the list of players making the current NHL minimum salary. Many of these players are rookies in their first year or two or a veteran in their last couple of years playing in the league.
Veterans may opt for the lower salary in order to play for a team that they enjoy being on — and perhaps even have a last shot at winning the Stanley Cup. Tradesmen or journeymen are players who have NHL abilities but aren’t necessarily superstars and who don’t stand out against some of their high-scoring popular counterparts.
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 larger contract within a year or two.
Some of the household NHL player names that are making the league minimum include Zdeno Chara, Jason Spezza, and Joe Thornton. These guys have been long-term NHLers and are likely in the final years of their playing careers.
Why Is There a Minimum Salary in the NHL?
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. Injuries are unfortunately common in this highly physical game and players understandably want to make as much as they can in a short period of time.
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 that they are getting properly compensated for the risks that they take on every time they step out onto the ice.
With the average career length of an NHL player hovering around 5 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 take care of the player and their family for the rest of their lives.
What Determines the NHL Minimum League Salary?
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 biggest negotiations was around introducing a salary cap — which would protect players and guarantee them a minimum “fair” salary.
At the time, the minimum salary jumped from $180,000 to $450,000, which is a significant difference and one 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.
The current collective bargaining agreement is set to end after the 2021-2022 season, at which point the NHLPA will have another opportunity to make gains for the players. It’s likely that the association will want to raise the minimum salary.
Why Does the NHL Pay Less Than Other Sports?
Hockey, in general, pays out less to its players than other major sports — such as football and basketball. Granted, the audience for ice hockey is significantly less than that of the NFL and NBA which naturally means that the NHL has less revenue overall to work with.
However, the average salary of NHL players is over $2.5 million a year — which isn’t a small sum. Despite paying out less money overall to players, the NHL has the second-highest league minimum salary. In comparison, the NFL has one of around $660,000.
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.
Player Protection With a Minimum Salary
Players of a sports league greatly benefit when there is a guaranteed minimum salary 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 when you consider that 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 that they’re getting a good deal.