NHL Player Salaries Are Depressing Compared to Other Major Sports Leagues

When one pictures a pro athlete, they often equate the amount of money with their skill level. In an era where athletes in many sports are signing nine-figure deals that increase by the year, the NHL lags far behind. Its best players make a fraction of what baseball, basketball, and football stars make. We think the NHL should consider giving its players a raise.

What are the average salaries in other sports? 

The NBA has the highest average player salary of any pro league, as Statista reports. The average NBA player makes $7.77 million a year. Benefiting from smaller rosters than many sports as well as player-centric marketing focused on superstars, the NBA beats every league by not only averaging the highest salaries but guaranteeing the money where other sports don’t.

Internationally, the Indian Premier League, the most popular cricket league in the world, comes in second with an average salary of $5.06 million. Major League Baseball comes in third with $4.5 million a year. This is a surprisingly low number when one considers its superstars like Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. However, minor league players make nowhere near the money of the stars.

The NFL is fifth with an average salary of $2.91 million a year. This money is also non-guaranteed unless a contract stipulates otherwise. Of the major U.S. sporting leagues, the NHL is only beat by Major League Soccer, which lacks the nationwide support of hockey and averages less than $1 million a player. 

What do NHL players make? 

When one says hockey players don’t make much money, it doesn’t mean the players are living in poverty. The NHL is still a multi-billion dollar industry that pays its players quite well, as Forbes explains. But relative to other sports, the NHL lags behind, especially when you consider that the season is long and players put themselves on the line multiple times a week. 

The top players in the NHL aren’t doing too poorly. Toronto Maple Leaf Mitch Marner is currently the highest-paid player in the NHL at $16 million. His teammates, John Tavares and Auston Matthews, are right behind him with $15.9 million each. Casey Price and Connor McDavid come in third with $14 million. However, these salaries are less than half of what NBA stars make.

Down at the bottom of the NFL, players earn a league-minimum of $700,000 a season. These players are often in their first years and trying to work toward bigger contracts. The league’s math, however, just doesn’t add up when put against the other leagues. 

What can the NFL do about its players’ salaries?

While it is easy to make the NHL the villain here, the fact of the matter is that popularity brings money. Hockey is a distant fourth behind basketball, football, and baseball in North America. NHL players won’t have the singular draw that LeBron James or Tom Brady does. With rare exceptions like Wayne Gretzky, it doesn’t produce international superstars. 

NHL players get comparable revenue to other leagues. Players can bargain for more money and teams can decide whether to pay it. But if the NHL wants to give people raises, they must attract more fans. Otherwise, it will never catch up.