If you heard the rumour that NHL players are playing for free during the Stanley Cup playoffs, you heard right. However, a team or player can get many bonuses depending on how far they go in the playoffs or even how good they do during the regular season.
Let's dive into how the NHL bonus structure works during the playoffs.
Table of Contents
How much do NHL players get paid in the playoffs?
NHL players do not earn a salary in the playoffs. However, NHL players participating in the playoffs can share in the league's playoff pool system. This is a specified amount of money set aside by the NHL each season as per the CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement.)
All 16 teams in the postseason share the prize money, with the Stanley Cup winners receiving the most significant individual cash prize.
The amount of playoff prize money is relatively minimal compared to the NHL's top-paid multi-millionaire players.
However, for those making the league minimum, a Stanley Cup prize payout could amount to approximately 25 to 30 percent of their total wages – a not-insignificant amount of their overall wage.
Is there a salary cap in the NHL playoffs?
No, there is no salary cap in the NHL playoffs due to the fact players are not paid during the NHL playoffs. This is a controversial topic, as there have been numerous situations where injured players with high salaries have returned to play during the postseason. As a result, that team would have been over the salary cap if there had been one.
Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning had this happen during their Stanley Cup run in 2021. They were $18M over the regular season salary cap and caused a lot of controversey.
Is there a bonus for winning the Stanley Cup?
Each team's prize money depends on how far they progress in the playoffs. The eight eliminated teams in the first round receive the lowest cash prize, while the four clubs knocked out in the second round receive the next-lowest amount.
Two teams are then eliminated in the Stanley Cup semifinals. At the same time, the Stanley Cup winner takes home the most significant bonus, and the other Stanley Cup finalist is awarded the second-largest cash allotment.
How much is the Stanley Cup bonus?
Per the collective bargaining agreement, a team will get $2.25M for appearing in the Stanley Cup Finals and $3.75M for winning the Stanley Cup. The money is then divided between the players and management, typically on a pre-arranged structure decided by the team.
What are the NHL playoff bonuses?
The amount of playoff bonus money each season is ultimately decided by the NHL and the NHL Players' Association and is written into their collective bargaining agreement.
The teams typically get $250,000 in the quarter-finals, $500,000 in the semifinals, and the losers of the conference final will get $1.25M.
From there, as mentioned above, if you get to the NHL Stanley Cup Final, you will get $2.25M, while the winner of the Stanley Cup gets $3.75M.
Playoffs aside, the Presidents' Trophy winner, the team with the best regard in the league during the regular season, is awarded $500,000.
Recent total playoff pool prize amounts
According to the collective bargaining agreement, the size of the playoff prize pool generally increases every third season.
Below is a list of past, present and future playoff prize money amounts that are shared by the 16 playoff teams.
2014-15 – $14 million
2015-16 – $14 million
2016-17 – $15 million
2017-18 – $15 million
2018-19 – $16 million
2019-20 – $16 million
2020-21 – $20 million
2021-22 – $20 million
2022-23- $21 million
2023-24 - $22 million
2024-25 - $23 million
2025-26 - $24 million
As you can see over the last 10 years that have been a slight increase year on year.
How much does a player receive?
The amount of prize money for playoff participants and Stanley Cup winners depends on the club. Each team votes on the number of shares it should give out.
Players who dress for just a few playoff games typically don't receive a full share. Still, regulars all receive an equal amount.
In 2017, the Pittsburgh Penguins reportedly received $4.325 million in prize money for winning the Stanley Cup, while the Nashville Predators were awarded $2.6 million as runners-up. This prize money is then voted on and divided into shares for players.
For example, if the Penguins voted on 25 equal shares in 2017, each player would have received $173,000 in prize money.
Does the minimal money change the desire to win?
Since the playoff prize money is relatively low and players aren't paid in the postseason, there has long been a belief among some fans that non-North American players aren't as dedicated to winning the Stanley Cup as their Canadian and American counterparts are.
Fans who believe this point to the fact that North American players have grown up watching the playoffs all their lives and take great pride in winning the Stanley Cup.
On the other hand, players from Europe haven't grown up in the same culture, and a Stanley Cup triumph isn't considered to be as important to them.
Does the NHL give out championship rings?
Typically when a team wins the Stanley Cup, the team will issue championship rings. The quality of the rings and who is given a ring are completely up to the team. Unlike a name being etched on the Stanley Cup, for which there are hard and fast rules, a team could order a Stanley Cup ring for whoever they wanted.
Typically all players and members of the winning team – including coaches and trainers receive a jewel-encrusted totem for their achievements.
The practice started in 1890 and has continued up to the present day – but over time, it evolved as teams have more money to spend and more fans to reach with special 'commemorative rings' that go on sale.
I wrote a whole piece of this; you can read more about the surprising history of the Stanley Cup Ring.
Is Stanley Cup prize money necessary?
All hockey players appreciate receiving bonus money for their efforts. Still, those who are well off financially probably wouldn't miss it if the NHL stopped awarding it. Of course, players who don't make as much money typically appreciate the bonus prizes much more.
NHL players don't enter the playoffs to make bonus money, though; their ultimate goal is to have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup and earn themselves a Stanley Cup ring.
There's no doubt that Stanley Cup prize money can be an added incentive for players to give 100 percent in the playoffs. Still, it's not considered necessary by most participants.
Additional Stanley Cup bonuses
While Stanley Cup winners have their names engraved on the trophy, and receive a championship ring and a bonus cash prize, they could also benefit financially even more after the victory.
Star players from cup-winning teams often earn money making endorsements, receive milestone gifts and could also see a significant raise in their next NHL contract since they now have greater leverage or bargaining power.
Also, some players already have bonus clauses written into their current contracts which reward them for winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs.
League rules prohibit NHL teams from paying their players bonuses for making the playoffs and winning the Stanley Cup though.
In reality, NHL players are paid to play the game they love regardless of winning a championship.
Stanley Cup prize money is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but compared to those with multi-million dollar salaries, playoff bonuses in the NHL are just a drop in the bucket.