Who is the highest paid NHL player? 2024

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 2023-24 year is Nathan MacKinnon with an annual average salary (aav) of $12.5 million. Starting in the 2024-25 year it will be Auston Matthews at $13.25 million.

However, understanding top salaries in the NHL is a 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 three things:

  1. Average annual value of the contract
  2. Actual salary paid out in a given year, and the
  3. Maximum a player is allowed to be paid. 

Let’s look at these factors more closely as well as we focus on the top guys making the most in the NHL.

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 83.5 million dollars. This means that a team can spend a maximum of $83.5 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 $83.5 million dollar salary cap Auston takes about $11.6 million. 

How does the money in a contract get 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

The actual salary is the real income he is earning every year.
As you can see Auston Matthews makes more actual money in the early years of his contract and less towards the end.

Embed from Getty Images

Is it 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)
Nathan MacKinnon$12.6
Conor McDavid$12.5
Artemi Panarin$11.642
Auston Matthews$11.64
Erik Karlsson$11.5
David Pastrnak$11.25
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 83.5 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 $16.7 million per year. 

However, when we look at the highest paid player, Nathan MacKinnon, he is making 12.6 million. That is 4.1 million less or 15.1% of the cap, why the difference? 

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 12.6 million what does the average player make.?

The Average NHL player salary is now at $3.69 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? 


So the highest paid NHL Player is Nathan MacKinnon. But that won’t last long because at the start of the next NHL season it will be Auston Matthews.

And, that won’t last long either because Conner McDavid is up for a new contract in two years, and he will become the highest player then.

One thing we can be sure of is that every year or two there will almost always be a new highest paid player in the NHL.

Leave a Reply

Related Articles
Hockey Answered Secondary Logo

Welcome to Hockey Answered: a resource for anyone curious to learn & understand more about the great game of hockey.

I am a lifelong fan who grew up in a major market (Calgary), and I have played, coached, and watched a lot of hockey!

As my daughter began watching NHL games with me, I realized how many questions come up about the sport. Hockey Answered is full of, well, answers! If you are a new fan or lifelong enthusiast, I hope that you can enjoy hockey even more by learning something new around here.

How can we help?