Who is the highest paid player in the NHL?

There was a time in professional sports when they did not report player’s salaries? So not fun!

We love to know how much players are making, especially the guys at the top. Who is the highest paid player in the NHL? 

The highest paid player in the NHL is Connor McDavid with an annual average salary (aav) of $12.5 million. However, yearly salaries can be higher or lower than the aav, and Auston Matthews made the highest actual salary at $15.9 million. 

Figuring out the top salary in the NHL is a little more complicated than simply looking at who is the top of the list. To understand the top salary in the league we have to look at average annual value of the contract versus the actual salary paid out, and the maximum of 20% of the salary cap a player is allowed to be paid. 

Let’s look at these factors more closely as well as who are the top guys making the most in the NHL.

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Highest Salary in the league: AAV vs. Total Salary

One of the key things to understand about a player’s contract is that it is calculated on an average annual basis for salary cap purposes, but it may be paid out in different amounts from the aav. 

If that above sentence seems confusing, it is, but let’s walk through an example to clear the muddy waters. 

The NHL has a salary cap of 81.5 million dollars. This means that a team can spend a maximum of $81.5 million dollars on the 23 players that make up their NHL roster. 

Let’s look at Auston Matthews contract to see how it works. 

Auston Matthews signed a 5 year contract worth $58,195,000 – must be nice!

So the league will calculate the average annual value or “aav” by taking the total contract value and dividing it by the length. So in this case $58,195,000/5=11,640,250.

Auston Matthews has a aav of 11,640,250. So of the $81.5 million dollar salary cap Auston takes about $11.6 million. 

How the money in a contract gets paid out?

But just because Matthews has an aav of 11.6 million does not mean he gets the money paid out evenly during the length of his contract. 

Most of us have heard of the saying, ‘a dollar today is worth more than a dollar tomorrow’. Well, because of inflation and the potential to invest money and put it towards compound interest Auston would like to have as much of that contract paid out today as he could

There are some rules around not paying it all at once, but players will try to get their contracts front loaded so more of it gets paid out at the start than the end. 

In Auston’s case he had a good agent and his contract was negotiated so that he got more of his salary up front

In terms of the total salary his contract is structured like this:

YearAnnual Average Salary (AAV)Actual Salary

As you can see Auston Matthews makes more actual money in the early years of his contract and less towards the end.

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So what is best to go by AAV or total salary in determining the highest paid player? 

It is best to go by AAV to determine who has the highest salary in the NHL. 

However, it is interesting to see how the contracts are structured and what the actual dollars they are being paid for that season. 

In the end, just because you have the highest aav does not mean that you are getting the highest total dollars that year. But in the end, the guy with the highest aav is the highest paid!

PlayerAverage Annual Value (in Millions)
Conor McDavid$12.5
Artemi Panarin$11.642
Auston Matthews$11.64
Erik Karlsson$11.5
Drew Doughty $11.0
John Tavares$11.0

What is salary cap percentage? 

Another key thing to know about the salary of the top NHL players is that no one player can make more than 20% of the salary cap

This is called salary cap percentage – the cap hit in dollars of the upper level of the salary cap at the time of signing. 

The salary cap in the NHL is 81.5 million dollars. So if a team was to sign a player today the maximum contract that they can be signed for is 20% of $81.5 million or $16.3 million per year. 

However, when we look at the highest paid player, Connor McDavid, he is making 12.5 million. That is 3.8 million less, why the difference. 

When Connor signed his contract his aav actually made up 16.7% of the team’s cap. When Auston signed his it was at 15.6% of the cap. 

When the cap was first introduced in the NHL after the 2004 lockout the top players did make more of the percentage of the cap hit as team’s learned how to manage the cap.

The most notable was Jaromir Jagr in Washington making 20% and Brad Richards in Dallas at 20% as well. Other notables included Levacavlier in Tampa at 17%, Khabibulin in Chicago 17% and Scott Neidermayer in Anaheim at 17%.

As the NHL General Managers got used to managing the cap and building teams it has been determined that to pay one player 20% of the cap is too much. With one player taking up that much of the cap space it is too difficult to surround them with the necessary talent to ice a contending team – other quality players need to get paid as well.

As the years have rolled on the consensus seems to be to pay the best players in the league at around 15% of the cap and then the rest of the roster will fill in from there.

When Crosby signed his extension it was for 15.3% of the cap and Ovechkin was a bit more in the McDavid camp at 16.8%


How does the highest paid player compare to the average paid player?

Well, if the highest paid player in the league makes 12.5 million what does the average player make.?

The Average NHL player salary is now at $3 million dollars. Not too bad for a year’s work. 

See a full breakdown: What is the average NHL player salary? 

How does the highest compare to the lowest?

At the low end the league minimum salary is $750,000. In fact, this is the most common salary in the league. 

If you looked at all of the NHL’s salary you would see that 70% of player’s salaries go to the top 30% of players

If you are good, you will make a lot of money. However, most of the NHL players will fall between the minimum and average salary makers and only play in the NHL for 2 or less years. 

See a full analysis: What is the lowest NHL salary? 

How does this compare to other sports? 

In comparison to the other major sports in North America – MLB, NFL, and NBA the NHL is behind. The NHL does not bring in nearly as much television revenue as the other sports, and, therefore, their salaries are greatly reduced in comparison. 

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Here is a breakdown of the top salaries in each league: 

Paid Player
NHL$750,000$3 million$12.5 millionConnor McDavid
NBA$582,000$7 million$37.44 millionLeBron James
NFL$495,000$2.1 million$35 millionRussell Wilson
MLB$550,000$4.36 million$37.7 millionMike Trout

See also: Why do NHL players get paid less than other sports? 

List of the Top 20 highest by AAV

PlayerAAV (in Millions)
Connor McDavid$12.5
Artemi Panarin$11.64
Auston Matthews$11.6
Erik Karlsson$11.5
John Tavares$11.0
Drew Doughty$11.0
Mitch Marner$10.9
Jonathan Toews$10.5
Patrick Kane$10.5
Anze Kopitar$10.0
Sergei Bobrovsky$10.0
Jack Eichel$10.0
Tyler Seguin$9.85
Alex Ovechkin$9.54
Jaime Benn$9.5
Nikita Kucherov$9.5
Mark Stone$9.5
Evgeni Malkin$9.5
Andrei Vasilevskiy$9.5

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