The NHL functions on a cap-based system when it comes to player salaries. Each year, the NHL sets a minimum and maximum spending cap in relation to overall league profits.
While the minimum salary is fixed at $750,000 USD, the maximum for any one player is tied to upper cap limit.
That is, a player’s salary cannot exceed 20% of the maximum limit, which was set to $82.5 million USD for the 2022-23 NHL season.
Therefore, the highest salary any individual player can make for this year is $16.5 million USD.
As a note, the league minimum is scheduled to rise to $775,000 USD in 2023-24. Below is a table depicting the yearly NHL Minimum Salary as set in the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).
Minimum Salary (USD)
Given these set limits, we know that the average NHL player salary lies somewhere in between.
So, let’s answer the question you came here for…
What is the average NHL salary?
The average NHL player salary is $3,196,767 USD as of the start of the 2022-23 season. This value is based on 773 player signings, including all buried and two-way contracts. The highest paid player is Tyler Seguin at $13,000,000 USD, while 82 players are paid the league minimum of $750,000 USD.
Yes, you read that right. The highest player (base pay + signing bonus) is Tyler Seguin for the NHL 2022-23 season.
Not Connor McDavid nor Auston Matthews or anyone else for that matter.
This is because long term contracts can have varying annual pay year-to-year.
Seguin is his fourth year of an 8-year contract. This is the last year of the front-loaded end of his deal.
In addition, 544 players (70.3%) earn $1,000,000 USD or more, while 329 players (or 42.6%) make above the league average.
Keep in mind that these values are based on current season salaries, and not annual cap hits from player contracts. Moreover, the salaries are the calculated by adding each player’s base salaries along with their respective signing bonuses.
While Tyler Seguin (Dallas Stars) leads the pack for the NHL 2022-23 Season, he doesn’t own the record for the highest single-season salary. That honor goes to Mitch Marner from the Toronto Maple Leafs, who set the record in 2019 at $16,000,000 USD.
Marner’s salary has dropped down to $8,000,000 USD, based on his contract agreement. So, why is that?
NHL Salary Structure
It’s actually common for players to sign multi-year NHL contracts with front-loaded salaries. Their first-year salary can exceed those in subsequent years of the contract, based on the NHL Collective Bargaining agreement (CBA).
However, there are some restrictions in place that salaries cannot vary too greatly from year-to-year.
It’s also possible for the annual salary to increase mid-contract or vary whichever way the player agent structures it within the CBA guidelines.
We’ll cover this in a future post about multi-year player contracts.
In the meantime, you should know that players can sign up to 8-year contracts as restricted free agents with their own team, or 7 years max as unrestricted free agents.
I refer to the CBA NHL-NHLPA statement found on page 285, rule 50.8, subsection (b) (iv):
An SPC (Standard Player Contract) with a term of greater than seven (7) years, provided, however, that a club may sign a player to an SPC with a term of up to eight (8) years if that player was on such club's reserve list as of and since the most recent trade deadline. With respect to potential unrestricted free agents only, the ability to re-sign a player to an SPC of eight (8) years expires when the player becomes an unrestricted free agent. With respect to a player who becomes a Group 2 restricted free agent, a club may sign such player to an SPC with a term of up to eight (8) years provided such player was on such club's reserve list and/or restricted free agent list as of and since the most recent trade deadline.
For those of you that are curious, I quickly explain here what two-way and buried contracts mean when calculating the average NHL salary.
Two-way NHL Contracts
When a player is signed to a two-way contract, they are not guaranteed the full NHL salary for the season. That’s because they are also signed to an AHL contract (minor affiliate team), which is significantly less.
Players are paid a prorated value of their NHL salary while at the NHL level. That is, they only make a portion of the salary for their time spent there.
If they are demoted back to the AHL, they return to the minor league contract.
While on the subject of AHL affiliate teams, it is possible for an NHL player with a one-way contract to be sent down to the minors.
Even though they’re not playing for an NHL roster, they continue to earn their NHL salary. This is known as a buried contract.
Now that we’ve explored all the possible types of NHL contracts and related it back to the average salary, let’s break down these averages by position.
Let’s see which who earns the most between goalies, forwards and defensemen.
Average Salary for an NHL Goaltender
Based on the 2022-23 season, the average salary for an NHL goaltender is $3,324,615 USD. There are 74 goaltenders under contract for the season. Sergei Bobrovsky (Florida Panthers) is the highest paid goalie at $12,000,000 USD for the current season.
Furthermore, Bobrovsky has the 3rd highest salary in the entire NHL this season.
Not too far behind is Andrei Vasilevskiy, goaltender for the Tampa Bay Lightning, listed at #8 with a $11,000,000 USD salary.
There are 59 goalies (79.7%) making $1.0 Million USD or more, while 6 goalies (8.1%) are making the league minimum of $750,000 USD.
Lastly, there are 35 (47.3%) goalies that are making more than the average NHL goaltender salary.
Average Salary for an NHL Defenseman
The average salary for an NHL defenseman is $3,106,167 USD in 2022-23. This is based on 252 contracts signed by defensemen on the season. Both Darnell Nurse of the Edmonton Oilers and Erik Karlsson of the San Jose Sharks are top earners at $12,000,000 USD.
Nurse and Karlsson are tied for 3rd in the overall salary rankings.
Other notable defensemen include Drew Doughty (Los Angeles Kings) and Adam Fox (New York Rangers) ranked at #8 with a $11,000,000 USD salary.
Next stop is Oliver Ekman-Larsson (VAN) at #11 spot with a $10,500,000 USD salary.
As you could see, NHL defensemen almost $200,000 USD less than the average goaltender.
So how does that stack up against NHL forwards?
Average Salary for an NHL Forward
The average salary in 2020-21 for an NHL forward is $3,226,679 USD. There are 447 forwards signed to NHL contracts for the season. Tyler Seguin (Dallas Stars) is the highest payed at $13,000,000 USD, as mentioned earlier.
The verdict is in.
NHL goalies are payed the most out of the three groups. The difference between all positions is less than $200,000 USD.
Now that we know which group is paid the most, let’s put our general manager’s hat on.
NHL Team Salary and Roster Obligations
How do general managers decide the amount to spend on each player?
Well, there are rules in place that teams must adhere to.
First off, each team can have up to 23 players on their Active Roster. These active players have their salaries count against the NHL salary cap.
If a player gets injured or sent back down to the minors, they can be replaced to fulfill their active roster limit.
As a result, you will see most teams pay more than just those 23 players throughout the season.
At the start of the season, the average team has 24 players signed (i.e. 773 players, 32 teams).
This number will likely increase to 30 players on average per team as we approach the latter stages of the season. We've seen this play out this way in the past.
Call ups occur due to injury or player swap between NHL and their minor affiliate teams.
To learn more about the NHL player count over the last few years, check out my blog post here on How Many Players are in the NHL?
Getting back to our 30-player roster count, there is some simple math general managers must do. They need to make sure that the total salaries of any 23-player combination on their active roster falls within the cap limits.
For purists out there, it’s true that an individual player’s cap hit is is not necessarily equal to their salary. I mentioned before that a player’s cap is actually equal to their total contract divided by the number of years signed.
This number is either close or equal to their annual salary in question.
To recap, the salary structure and range for each NHL position can be summarized as follows:
Darnell Nurse/Erik Karlsson
As the league continues to grow in profits, it's certain that we'll see the average salary increase as well.
We already know that the base salary is increasing over the next few seasons.
I expect to see that minimum to be raised even further once the new Collective Bargaining Agreement is signed for 2026-27 and beyond.
The other number to keep an eye on is the upper salary cap limit.
During COVID-19, we saw the limit stagnate at $81.5 million USD, but it has now increased to $82.5mil USD. Since being reintroduced in the 2005-06, the cap has undergone steady growth.
Now that the Pandemic has mostly subsided, we can expect to see the cap increase ever higher. As a result, the elite players will earn more, sign bigger contracts and drive up the NHL salary average even further.
As a look into what's to come the next several years, Nathan MacKinnon just signed for $100.8 million USD for the next 8 years with the Colorado Avalanche .