If you’ve watched your favorite team’s Stanley Cup playoff run in recent years, you may have found yourself curious as to whether or not the players are getting paid for these games. If so, then how much and how does the compensation work?
The NHL playoff bonus system is a bit complicated and it’s paid out to the team as a whole, who then decides how to divvy up the funds amongst players. Due to the collective bargaining agreement, the NHL allocates a predetermined amount of money which is then distributed throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs to the competing teams. Recently, this “player fund” held a whopping grand total of $20,000,000.
Recent Playoff Player Fund Amounts
For the 2020-2021 NHL season, the total money was as follows for the playoffs:
- First Round Loss — $3,125,000 divided by 8 teams ($390,625 per team)
- Second Round Loss — $3,125,000 divided by 4 teams ($781,250)
- Third Round Loss — $3,750,000 divided by 2 teams ($1,875,000)
- Stanley Cup Runner-Up — $3,437,500 awarded to 1 team
- Stanley Cup Champion — $5,781,250 awarded to the winning team
The collective bargaining agreement allows the NHL to allocate $20,000,000 to the “player fund” that is then distributed to the teams throughout the playoff series, depending on how far each team gets. The players will then be granted this money from the team as a bonus during the off-season.
This money isn’t actually part of their salary and is instead paid as an additional bonus — and it doesn’t interfere with the team’s cap limit. Technically, players aren’t being paid by their organization for their time spent playing for the league during the playoffs, but they still end up getting compensation through the NHL itself.
How Much Does Each Player Get?
While the above numbers show you how much each team gets, it then has to be divided amongst the players themselves — leaving a much smaller sum. Each team votes on how to give out the shares, so the resulting amount will be on a team by team basis and doesn’t necessarily have to be the same across the board.
Usually, players who participated in all of the playoff games will receive larger bonuses than teammates who perhaps only played in one or two. When the NHL calls up black aces at the end of their season to use as reserve players, it’s only natural that these rostered individuals won’t get an equal share of the bonus when compared with the players who competed with the team for the entire season.
However, in 2020-2021 when the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup, they opted to divide the money equally amongst their entire roster regardless of games played.
Does the Player Fund Increase in Value Each Year?
The player fund bonuses are negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement by the NHL and the NHLPA — the player’s union. Typically, as the revenue of the NHL increases, so does the amount allocated to the playoff bank.
In the 2018-2019 season, the total amount was $16,000,000 and then quickly jumped to $32,000,000 in the 2019-2020 season. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic and the resulting loss of revenue, the 2020-2021 season saw a drop in the amount that was placed into the fund.
The more revenue the league brings in each year, the better in terms of the amount of money they can work with later on. Increased interest in the league itself will draw in new fans who will then go on to purchase tickets and team gear, which helps support the players down the line.
How Do NHL Bonuses Compare to Other Major Sports Leagues?
When compared to other major sports leagues such as the MLB and the NBA — the NHL is the lowest in terms of how much they allocate to playoff bonuses. In 2020, when the NHL was offering $20,000,000 — the MLB and NBA were offering $94,800,000 and $23,287,266, respectively.
The MLB of course has a much larger audience and is able to generate millions more in revenue through ads and ticket sales, putting this league far and above its counterparts. Also, the MLB has a larger number of players on an active roster at any given time.
Do NHL Playoff Bonuses Incentivize the Players Further?
While making an extra quarter of a million dollars sounds like a significant sum of money to most people, this doesn’t compare to the regular salaries of many NHL players. Even players making the league minimum of $750,000 are making three times this number during the regular season.
Some players are raking in several millions of dollars per year, so the playoff bonus isn’t necessarily a huge incentive for them — just a nice extra bit of change at the end of the day. The main incentive for players is to win the glory of being a Stanley Cup champion.
Reaching this goal is priceless for many players and it’s the thing that they work towards all year long.
The main draw for the playoffs isn’t the extra bonuses but for the high level of fierce competition with the best teams in the league and the opportunity to finally be able to declare themselves the winners. NHL players thrive off of competition or else they wouldn’t have entered the league in the first place.
“It’s About the Team”
While NHL players receive specific bonuses throughout the playoffs, culminating in a multi-million dollar team prize if they’re crowned the Stanley Champions — most players wouldn’t even be able to tell you how much cash is on the line.
When asked, James van Riemsdyk of the Toronto Maple Leafs responded with, “I don’t know. At this time of the year, it’s about the team.”
The extra financial incentive doesn’t correlate to increased motivation. Most players have been dreaming about competing for this ultimate prize since they were kids, which culminates in playoff hockey games where players are giving everything they’ve got to their teams for the chance to win the greatest honor of all.
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