Average Salary in the NHL: Plus Who Gets Paid the Most

By Indeed Editorial Team

January 7, 2022

The NHL average salary is in the millions of dollars when you compare the entire National Hockey League. However, salaries can vary among the different teams, as some spend more money on player salaries than others for reasons including team popularity, ticket sales and advertising dollars.

In this article, we discuss the average salary in the NHL, what NHL teams are paying in salaries yearly, what it takes to become an NHL player and what other professional sports leagues pay their players. Please note that Indeed is not affiliated with the NHL or any of the teams noted in this article.

What is the average salary for an NHL player?

The average salary for an NHL player is $2.69 million per year as of the 2019/2020 season, although that can vary a great deal across different teams and individual players. This is higher than the national average for all athletes and sports competitors, which is $51,370 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This difference is because of the high profile of the NHL and its players, much like in the National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball.

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Which NHL teams pay their players the most?

The NHL teams that pay their players the most on average per year are:

  • The Minnesota Wild: $3.32 million

  • Pittsburgh Penguins: $3.28 million

  • St. Louis Blues: $3.19 million

The team that pays the lowest average salary in the NHL is the Toronto Maple Leafs, with an average of $1.54 million per year. The Maple Leafs, despite having the lowest average player salary, also had the highest paid player in the league as of 2019/2020, with John Tavares earning $15.9 million per year.

What is the minimum salary in the NHL?

As of the 2019/2020 season, the minimum salary for hockey players in the NHL was $650,000 per year. Having a minimum salary shows players who may not be on the ice as much that the team still values them. Most athletes only have a short amount of time in which to earn the maximum amount possible before moving on to other areas of the sport or into a new industry. Sometimes a player must retire earlier than planned due to an injury. Therefore, the minimum salary for an NHL player might seem high, but it exists to make up for the risk and short-term nature of the career.

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How much do NHL teams pay in player salaries per year?

With player salaries ranging from the $650,000 per year minimum to the tens of millions, the total player payroll for an NHL team can add up quickly. NHL teams are allowed to have a 23-player active roster. For each game, they need to select a 20-player game roster, which will include 18 players and two goalies. Even when those on the active roster aren't on that day's game roster, they are still getting paid.

NHL teams pay anywhere between $66 million and $89 million in player payroll per year, as of the 2018/2019 season. The team with the lowest total payroll is the Carolina Hurricanes, and the team with the highest total payroll is the Dallas Stars.

How to become an NHL player

Here are the steps for becoming an NHL player in the United States:

1. Start playing hockey early

Most of the players in the NHL today began playing hockey at a young age. Particularly in northern areas of the United States, hockey leagues for children are popular. These leagues teach kids the basics of the game and the necessary teamwork and communication skills. While it's not a necessity, playing hockey as a child can give you an advantage for playing professionally as an adult.

2. Play hockey in high school

High school hockey players typically learn more about the game than they would have in childhood youth leagues. For instance, they will learn more complicated playing techniques, necessary workouts and training regimens that allow them to advance beyond basic abilities. Performing well in high school can also increase your visibility with college recruiters.

3. Join a college hockey team

While the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I teams typically attract more attention, it is also possible for a hockey player to excel at a smaller school. High school players choosing a college should balance the advantages of the schools' hockey teams with their educational programs and the availability of scholarships.

College hockey teams are popular for both men and women and offer a chance for hardworking and talented players to stand out at the national level. College hockey players learn even more about the sport and are usually prepared to play at a professional level by the end of their collegiate career. Excellence in college hockey can lead to a place in the NHL draft without needing to play in the minor leagues.

4. Enter a minor league on a farm team

The two most famous minor hockey leagues, also known as farm leagues, in the United States are the American Hockey League (AHL) and ECHL (formerly the East Coast Hockey League). For some players, participating in the minor leagues has many advantages, like earning a yearly salary and honing their skills to make them more appealing and valuable to NHL teams. NHL teams often scout talent from minor leagues regularly, sometimes even in the middle of a season if the teams need a player with certain strengths or the coaches want to change their roster.

5. Get drafted into the NHL

Whether it's immediately after college or after a few years in the minor leagues, players who work hard and prove themselves on the ice have a chance of earning a place in the NHL. The NHL has a draft every year, and teams select players internationally or within the U.S. from colleges and high schools.

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What professional sport has the highest annual salary?

The professional sport that has the highest average annual player salary in the world is the NBA at $8.32 million per year. This is much higher than the next league on the list, which is the Indian Premier League (IPL), a popular cricket league in India, where salaries average $5.3 million in U.S. dollars per year. The NHL falls seventh on the list at $2.69 million.

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