In hockey and most other professional sports the contracts that make the headlines are the largest and most expensive ones. But these are team sports and there are a lot of players that don’t get the press. How much do the players at the bottom-end get paid?
What is the lowest salary in the NHL? In 2023-24 the lowest salary as mandated by the collective bargaining agreement for a player is $750,000 USD. Approximately 14% of the players in the NHL make the league minimum.
During each collective bargaining agreement between the owners and players the league has mapped out what the lowest salary for a player in the NHL can be in each given year.
The minimum has been raised with an expectation that the salary cap will rise but has not been pegged at a certain percentage of the salary cap.
The NHL and NHLPA have added a four-year extension unto the existing agreement. The extension will see an increase in the league minimum salary for the final two years (here is a look at the average NHL salary).
Here is a list of those 10 years laid out in the current bargaining agreement and the 4 additional years of the cba extension for the minimum salary in a Standard Players Contract
Who makes the league minimum salary?
So who makes the minimum salary in the league? Well, I have got a chart at the bottom of the article of all the current players in the NHL who make the minimum salary. Keep in this mind that the players on this chart are very fluid and may be there one day, but gone the next.
That’s the life of a player when you are at the bottom of the pay scale in the NHL.
As you scan through the players names you will notice that there are not many household names. The types of players that fit into the lowest salary players are either on their rookie contracts or journeyman players or veterans on their last contract.
Some of the players on rookie contracts who make the minimum include Carter Hart (who is a fantastic young goaltender), Samuel Girard (great young defensemen) and Frederik Gauthier.
Some of the veteran players who are at then end of their career and are now making the minimum include Jack Johnson, Sam Gagner, and Calvin De Haan. They may have been able to make more money on a different team, but will often take less money (they have already made a lot) to play in a situation they like where they have a chance at the Stanley Cup.
However, most of the players are either players that are too good for the minors but not quite good enough to be a regular in the NHL (we call these players ‘tweeners’). This list includes press box sitters such as Trevor Lewis, Devin Shore, and Danton Heinen. Unless you follow the teams they are on you probably do not know who they are.Embed from Getty Images
An interesting subset of this list are veteran players who used to make a lot, and I mean a lot of money, but took a minimum contract because they wanted to keep on playing.
They can still help the team out, but they usually will take less money to be on a good team because they want to get another shot at winning a Stanley Cup. Now retired players (and former superstars) Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, and Jason Spezza took that route for their last couple of years of hockey.
How many players in the NHL make the league minimum?
Again, the list of players in the NHL who make the minimum will always be very fluid but give or take there is about 9% of players in the NHL. There are about 98 players who make the league minimum out of the 700 players total.
This surprised me a little bit, as I didn’t expect that high of a percentage to only be making the league minimum. This has even been exaggerated due to the COVID pandemic (even now). The league’s salary cap stayed flat so teams did not have as much money to spend on players.
This resulted in an extra 30 players being paid the minimum – the year before there were about 68 players making the minimum.
As the salary cap will start to rise more significantly in 2024 and beyond it will probably push the lower end salaries up as well.Embed from Getty Images
What is the discrepancy between league minimum and maximum?
As in most other professions the few people at the top make most of the money and this is no different in NHL players salaries.
The maximum salary a player can earn is 20% of the team salary cap, which in the current year would be 16.7 million dollars. So the range of salaries in the NHL this year could be as high as 16.7 million and as low as 750K.
No player is making $16.7 million dollars this year, but the highest is not far off as Nathan MacKinnon is making $12.6 million.
Another way to look at it is the top three paid players this year – MacKinnon, Matthews and Connor McDavid – make as much combined ($45 million) as the bottom 65 players in the NHL.
NHL minimum salary versus other sports
How does the NHL minimum salary compare to the NFL, MLB and NBA for league minimums?
- NBA – the NBA lowest salary is based on years of experience, but of all these at 0 years experience a player would get a minimum salary of $1,119,563
- NFL – the minimum annual salary for a rookie active roster player with a one-year contract is $750,000
- MLB – In 2024 the minimum salary for a baseball player in the major leagues will be $740,000