How Are NHL Players Getting Paid During the Lockout

The NHL players have been locked out by the league while negotiations continue on the new Collective Bargaining Agreement.  That means $1.8 billion dollars in contracts are currently going unpaid.

But not all the players are going without paychecks.

Let’s take a look at who’s still bringing home the bacon:

Injured Players

Players who were injured before the lockout will continue to receive paychecks until they’re cleared to play by team doctors.  Injured players who will still get paid during the lockout include:

Injured Player Team Salary (’12-’13)
Marian Hossa Blackhawks $7,900,000
Marian Gaborik Rangers $7,500,000
Chris Pronger Flyers $7,200,000
Marc Savard Bruins $6,500,000
Derek Roy Stars $5,500,000
Jason Garrison Canucks $5,500,000
Ryan Kesler Canucks $5,000,000
Mattias Ohlund Tampa $5,000,000
Andrej Meszaros Flyers $4,750,000
Pierre-Marc Bouchard Wild $4,300,000
Kris Versteeg Panthers $3,600,000
Alexander Edler Canucks $3,250,000
Zach Bogosian Jets $3,000,000
Rene Bourque Canadiens $3,000,000
Sean Bergenheim Panthers $2,750,000
Steve Montador Blackhawks $2,300,000
Jonathan Quick Kings $1,700,000
Michael Sauer Rangers $1,250,000
Patrick Eaves Red Wings $1,200,000

 Note that Rick DiPietro did not make the list. He picked the wrong time to get healthy…

Buy-Outs

Players that have been bought out by their teams are still getting paid.  Read that one more time.  Let it sink in.  This list is going to look pretty ugly.  Over 20 bought-out players are actually receiving a paycheck from an NHL team during the lockout.  They include:

Player Buyout Team Buyout Payment(’12-’13)
Alexei Yashin Islanders $2,204,000
Chris Drury Rangers $1,666,667
Sheldon Souray Oilers $1,500,000
J.P. Dumont Predators $1,333,333
Vinnie Prospal Lightning $1,166,667
Mike Commodore Blue Jackets $1,141,667
Colin White Devils $1,000,000
Colby Armstrong Maple Leafs $1,000,000
Darcy Tucker Maple Leafs $1,000,000

Surely the Islanders and Rangers aren’t exactly thrilled about stiffing their active players while they still have to cut checks to Yashin and Drury, respectively.

Signing Bonuses

Players who received signing bonuses as part of their contracts will still receive them.  Even though salaries remain unpaid during a lockout, signing bonuses are guaranteed.  In all, 39 players will be receiving at least $1 million this year from their signing bonuses.  The top earners, based on their signing bonus amounts:

Player Team Signing Bonus
Shea Weber Predators $13,000,000
Tyler Myers Sabres $10,000,000
Zach Parise Wild $10,000,000
Ryan Suter Wild $10,000,000
Brad Richards Rangers $8,000,000
Christian Ehrhoff Sabres $5,000,000
Ville Leino Sabres $4,000,000
Patrick Sharp Blackhawks $4,000,000
Kevin Bieksa Canucks $3,500,000
Matt Carle Lightning $3,000,000
Steven Stamkos Lightning $3,000,000
James Wisniewski Blue Jackets $3,000,000
Jason Garrison Canucks $3,000,000*

*As an injured player, Garrison will receive both his signing bonus and his salary until he is cleared to play by team doctors.

 

Escrow Returns

All players will be receiving money that was previously held in escrow. One of the sticking points in the last CBA was the withholding of a portion of players’ salaries in escrow.  Depending on league revenues, the players would be eligible to receive part of all of that money returned to them.   Of the 8.5% withheld for 2011-12, players are expected to get at least 8% returned via check in mid-October.

“When you’re receiving no income at all, getting the escrow payment will be good for the players,” said agent Matt Keator in a story by Kevin Allen of USA Today.  “Eight-and-a-half percent of a whole season’s pay is a lot for some guys and is helpful for many in terms of day-to-day expenses and investments.”

With an average salary of $2.4 million, that works out to a check of around $200,000 per player. Nothing spectacular, but hopefully enough to pay the rent.

The New York Times also reports that all players will begin receiving roughly $10,000 per month from a fund created by the union to help out in the event of a work stoppage.

Playing Overseas

Many players are opting to cross the pond, either to make some money or just to stay in shape.  This can be challenging due to the logistics of contracting an NHL player already under contract. While salaries aren’t disclosed, NHL players aren’t heading to Europe for a big pay day. Many players settle for a nominal salary for playing due to the excessive cost of the insurance policies that must be taken out.

In case of injury, players need to have insurance for their NHL contracts.   Normally, the overseas team covers the cost, which varies based on the contract, the player’s age, and his history.  Speaking to Sports Illustrated, one agent estimated the monthly premium at between $2,500 and $20,000 per month, but this amount can be even higher.   Petteri Ala-Kivimaki reported that “the Finnish Ice Hockey Association paid out a five-figure sum in insurance premiums for the services of Mikko Koivu at the last IIHF World Championships in Helsinki and Stockholm. The Finns’ Russian counterparts reportedly paid $400,000 to cover the insurance on Alexander Ovechkin for the same tournament.”  And this was just for a two-week event.

Are NHL Players Getting Paid During the Lockout

Will Sidney Crosby suit up during the lockout? (Jeanine Leech/ Icon SMI)

In the case of some injury-friendly players with high contracts (Rick DiPietro, please make room for Sidney Crosby next to you in the nurse’s office), the insurance may be such an exorbitant cost that teams choose to explore other options. Pat Brisson, appearing on Sportsnet’s Fan590, estimated the costs to insure Crosby could reach as high as $400,000 per month.  Because of this, don’t expect him to be suiting up for the KHL any time soon.

Some clubs are fortunate enough to get assistance from wealthy benefactors, according to International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel, who may assist teams with salaries and insurance payments for locked out players to join their teams “as a present to the fans.”   You can see this in the press releases for many of the players who’ve signed in the Swiss League. The announcements from the teams signing Patrice Bergeron, Jason Spezza, John Tavares, Max Pacioretty, and Tyler Seguin all made reference to financial backing from outside sources.

According to Rapperswil-Jona Lakers GM Roger Sigg, forward Jason Spezza is being paid enough to “cover his insurance costs.”   An NHL agent estimated that Spezza’s insruance costs will be in the neighborhood of $24,000 per month to insure one of the three years left on his contract, according to Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun.

Henrik Zetterberg - Detroit Red Wings

Zetterberg to play with Zug (Wikimedia)

Swiss magazine Blick recently reported that Swiss League team HC Lugano offered a contract to Detroit Red Wings forward  Henrik Zetterberg. The deal would reportedly pay $53,000 per month for insurance and $2,000 per month as salary.  That figure is certainly much more modest than the $7.75 million Zetterberg was set to earn in the NHL this season; with the Wings, he’d earn $1,575 per minute of every game.   Zetterberg ultimately signed in Switzerland, but with EV Zug. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Anthony Stewart of the Florida Panthers recently inked a deal with the Nottingham Panthers of Great Britian’s Elite League.  He’s basically playing for free.  While top players in the league bring in about $5,000 a month, many have additional sponsors or day jobs to help pay the bills.  The right winger’s new club is handling lodging – “They’re going to put me up in, what do you call it, a flat,” said Stewart and  the Panthers are covering Stewart’s insurance during his time in Nottingham, according to the New York Times.

Kontinental Hockey League (KHL)

Ilya Kovalchuk

Kovalchuk could be earning as much as $7 million in the KHL. (Icon SMI)

While the average salary is certainly lower in the KHL than the NHL, the potential earnings for a superstar player can be significantly higher.  Back in 2010, Mike Brophy of Sportsnet spoke with an anonymous GM who reported that former Red Wing Sergei Fedorov was earning $14 million a season on the KHL.  Rumors of Ilya Kovalchuk defecting to the league had a $20 million per year price tag attached to him.  Making those figures even more attractive is the fact that KHL contracts are tax free.  They also don’t include the escrow amounts – 8.5% for 2011-12 – that NHL players were required to pay under the previous CBA.

Of course, that’s for full time KHLers.

NHL players are subject to some additional restrictions. KHL teams are limited to a maximum of three NHLers on their rosters.  Their salaries are capped at 65% of their current NHL contracts – unless you’re Alex Ovechkin, who is rumored to have worked out a deal that would pay him more, according to Sovietsky Sport.

While the league does have a salary cap of $36.5 million per team, NHL players are exempt from being counted under the cap, giving teams more flexibility to sign them during the lockout.  Based on that, we can assume that players may be in the following range:

Player NHL Team NHL Salary (’12-13) KHL Max Salary
Ilya Kovalchuk Devils $11,000,000 $7,150,000
Alex Ovechkin Capitals $9,000,000 $5,850,000+
Evgeni Malkin Penguins $9,000,000 $5,850,000
Pekka Rinne Predators $7,000,000 $4,550,000
Pavel Datsyuk Red Wings $6,700,000 $4,355,000
Sergei Bobrovsky Flyers $6,500,000 $4,225,000
Niklas Backstrom Wild $6,000,000 $3,900,000
Zdeno Chara Bruins $6,000,000 $3,900,000
Sergei Gonchar Senators $5,500,000 $3,575,000
Evander Kane Jets $3,000,000 $1,950,000

While the lockout is still hitting the players in their wallets, don’t be fooled into thinking that the players aren’t getting paid.  Of the top 25 highest-paid players in the NHL, ten of them will be making at least $3MM thanks to signing bonuses or the injured reserve list.  The top 5 highest-salaried players all happen to have the top 5 highest signing bonuses – all $8 million and higher.

For the rest of the players, it will be interesting to see how far their 8% escrow payment and $10,000 a month from the NHLPA can carry them.

(All salaries and financial data in US dollars.  All salary information courtesy CapGeek.com)

Josh Smith
Josh is a life-long hockey fan. He grew up as a fan of the New York Rangers, but thanks to their general mismanagement and years of mediocrity, developed a great appreciation for every team across the league. He’s been writing about hockey on various sites since 1995. In addition to his work at The Hockey Writers, he also keeps tabs on the referees over at ScoutingTheRefs.com. Follow him on Twitter at @joshsmith29 or reach him via email at joshuasmithTHW-at-gmail.com.
Josh Smith

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