As the fifth-wealthiest professional sports league worldwide, the National Hockey League has some of the highest earners in global sport. Few other games can match hockey’s high-octane and immensely physical nature, so it’s unsurprising that the players are rewarded so handsomely. Moreover, with an average of 460,000 television viewers for each NHL match, there’s no denying the sport’s popularity.
Top NHL players such as Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux were already signing multimillion contracts in the early 1990s. At the time, Gretzky’s $3m a year contract with the Los Angeles Kings was unprecedented, but nowadays, this is a drop in the ocean. Annual player salaries regularly hit over $10m, and this trend will increase as the NHL enjoys more lucrative sponsorship and TV deals. Keep reading for a look at the highest earners in the NHL through the 2021-2022 season and beyond.
How wealthy is the NHL?
It’s worth checking out the overall wealth of the NHL before exploring the highest individual earners. This context is vital to appreciating the financial backdrop allowing teams like the Edmonton Oilers or New York Rangers to pay such substantial salaries to their star players. The NHL total league revenue jumped dramatically from 2005 to 2020. After a slight wobble due to the events of the last few years, revenue is increasing even faster than before.
For example, analysts now expect the total NHL 2021-2022 revenue to exceed the originally predicted $4.8bn and hit almost $5.4bn. This is considerably more than what most forecasters predicted several years ago, so the future looks bright for the National Hockey League as a whole.
A few of the top NHL earners today
The NHL’s impressive financial might is topped only by the NFL, MLB, NBA and the Premier League in England. As a result, some of the highest-paid sportsmen in the world play in the league. Legacy players such as the acclaimed Wayne Gretzky are the richest former players in the world, having earned almost $100m from his playing career and now possessing a net worth of $280m.
However, a new breed of star players is enjoying the substantial revenue increase across the NHL, resulting in incredibly lucrative contracts. Here are a few of the top NHL earners during the 2021-2022 season:
- Connor McDavid: With an average annual salary of $12,500,000, the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid is currently the highest-paid NHL player. The Canadian center burst onto the scene during the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and has since asserted himself as one of the best players in the league. His lightning speed and ruthlessness in the rink has even drawn comparisons with all-time greats like Wayne Gretzky.
- Artemi Panarin: Narrowly missing out on the top spot, Artemi Panarin’s average annual salary is just below McDavid’s, at $11,642,857. A key player for New York Rangers, the left winger started his career in his native Russia before debuting for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015. Panarin won the Calder Memorial Trophy at the end of the season, finishing as the league’s top rookie.
- Auston Matthews: 24-year-old Auston Matthews has had a stellar career so far, with landmark moments like becoming the first player to score four goals on his debut, resulting in an impressive resume. Currently alternate captain for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Matthews boasts an average annual salary of $11,640,250.
Fun ways to immerse yourself deeper in the NHL
Learning about the financial framework behind the NHL and its highest-earning players is a fascinating way to have a deeper involvement than simply watching the games.
There are several other fantastic ways to immerse yourself deeper in the NHL. Many people love entering fantasy leagues with their friends, especially due to the increased team and player knowledge that results from this. One step further is exploring NHL betting, where your keen understanding of the league can result in success. Aside from researching teams and players, taking advantage of the best NHL betting bonuses is also critical to maintain a winning betting record.
The NHL salary cap explained
Unlike some other global sports leagues, the NHL places an overall salary cap on its teams to avoid situations where excessive wealth results in an unfair playing field. During the 2021-22 season, teams are allowed a maximum $81.5m wage bill for their players, and a minimum of $60.2m.
Due to increased revenue, next season’s salary cap will increase to $82m, so we will probably see even more lucrative contracts offered. For more information on the NHL salary cap and what it means for specific teams, head to the dedicated section of our website.