When a hockey player wins the Stanley Cup and gets to hoist the greatest trophy in all of sports, their mind is flooded with so many thoughts. Memories of skating on frozen ponds when they were kids. Dreams they had to win it all when they were growing up. The countless number of times their parents schlepped them to the rink at all hours. All of their family, coaches and teammates that believed in them and encouraged them.
It’s euphoria. A complete rush of emotions. And when the dust settles, it’s also an extra paycheck.
NHL Playoff Pay
Come the playoffs, players continue to receive their salaries based on their annual contracts, since contracts are paid from July 1 to June 30.
NHL players do not get paid a separate salary for playing in the postseason. League rules actually prohibit NHL teams from paying their players bonuses for making the playoffs and winning the Stanley Cup. Only players on entry-level contracts and those over the age of 35 are permitted to have bonuses for playoff performances.
That said, players still receive compensation for a playoff appearance. The NHL and NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) agree to set aside a playoff bonus pool to be distributed to each playoff team based on how far they advance. It’s referred to in Article 28 of the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) as the Player Fund.
The Pot of Playoff Money
The size of the playoff prize pool generally increases every third season. In 2012-13 and 2013-14, the playoff bonus pool was $13 million, or twice the amount set aside in the earlier CBA. Here’s how the pool was divided in 2013:
The Presidents’ Trophy, awarded to the club that accumulates the most points in the standings during the league’s 82-game regular season, gets a small piece of the pie.
Presidents’ Trophy winner — $500,000
First round losers — $2 million ($250,000 each to eight teams)
Second round losers — $2 million ($500,000 each to four teams)
Third round losers — $2.5 million ($1.25 million each to two teams)
Stanley Cup Finalist — $2.25 million
Stanley Cup Champion — $3.75 million
As league revenues have increased, the bonus pool has also risen. Here’s how the playoff prize pool has risen over the last decade and into the period covered by the new CBA:
- 2012-13 – $13 million
- 2013-14 – $13 million
- 2014-15 – $14 million
- 2015-16 – $14 million
- 2016-17 – $15 million
- 2017-18 – $15 million
- 2018-19 – $16 million
- 2019-20 – $32 million
The playoff bonus pool doubled for the 2019-20 season, from $16 million to $32 million. A player on a team that lost in the best-of-five qualifying round received $20,000. Players in each round saw bonuses increase from there, with a share from the Stanley Cup winning team worth $240,000 per player.
Divvying up the Dollars
The NHLPA, with league approval, determines how the pool is distributed among the playoff-participating teams each year.
Each team votes on the number of shares it should give out. Players who dress for just a few playoff games typically don’t receive a full share, but regulars basically all receive an equal amount. In other words, each player doesn’t necessarily receive an equal share of the pool allocated to their respective team. Often there are some adjustments made based on roster size, healthy scratches, and other unique situations.
- In 2019, the eight playoff teams that lost in the first round received roughly $2.6 million ($325,000 to each of the teams). With each team having a roster of 25 players, each player received approximately $13,000.
- The four playoff teams that lost in the second round received $2.6 million ($650,000 to each of the teams); each of the 25 players received approximately $26,000.
- The two teams that lost in the third round received $1.6 million; each of the 25 players received approximately $65,000.
- The Stanley Cup Finalist received $3 million; each of the 25 players received approximately $117,000.
- Stanley Cup Champions received $4.9 million; each of the 25 players received approximately $200,000.
Comparing Championship Prize Money with other Leagues
Of the major sports – baseball, football, basketball and hockey – NHL Champions earn the smallest payout.
Major League Baseball – In 2018, the 10 postseason teams earned a record $88.2 million in bonuses. The Players’ Pool changes each year based on ticket sales: It’s made up of 50% of the gate receipts from the Wild Card games, 60% of the gate receipts from the first three games of the Division Series, 60% of the gate receipts from the first four games of the League Championship Series, and 60% of the gate receipts from the first four games of the World Series,” according to the MLB.
Each player on the World Series Champions, Washington Nationals received $382,358.
National Football League – In addition to bringing home the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy, the players from the Kansas City Chiefs each earned a six-figure bonus check: $124,000 just for winning the final game. That’s according to the 2011 collective bargaining agreement the NFL signed with the NFL Players Association, which will be in effect until the 2020 season. All told, they made an additional $211,000 each for their playoff run. The San Francisco 49ers, the Super Bowl losers, took home $149,000 to go with a lot of regret.
National Basketball Association – NBA prize money is put into a pool, and every team receives a part of it based on their performance. Last year, the total money in the pot was $20 million, which has been increased to $22 million this year. Every team participating gets a share from it as payout and the bonus is divided equally into all team members.
The Toronto Raptors defeated the Golden State Warriors to win their first trophy in 2019. As per the calculations, the total pool money was roughly $5.1 million. Each Raptor player got an equal share of $366,666 to take home.
Chump Change for Champs
Stanley Cup Champions are winners on many levels. Besides getting to hoist the Cup for a victory lap and getting a bling’d out Stanley Cup Champion ring, they often parlay their playoff performances into more lucrative contracts.
So though they may not get a bonus directly, they can have additional leverage for a higher contract down the road. Star players from Cup-winning teams also stand to benefit financially even more after the victory though endorsements.
For superstars, the amount of playoff prize money they earn is relatively minimal when compared to their multi-million dollar salaries. But for youngsters or those with value contracts, the playoff payout can be a sizable chunk of their total wages.
Ask any player and they’ll tell you money isn’t the reason they play. Their ultimate goal is to have their name engraved on the Stanley Cup and to earn a Stanley Cup ring. And that’s priceless.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”