Incentivizing your players ahead of the playoffs by way of increased wages or bonuses would make sense, wouldn’t it? Other than a player’s dream to one day lift the Stanley Cup, getting paid extra to do so would be a huge motivating factor.
Although, if you asked any NHL player right now, they would likely tell you the money doesn’t matter as much as winning the Stanley Cup. Something they’ve dreamt about since they were just kids.
When playoff time comes around in the NHL, players receive their regular salaries that were established when they signed their contracts, as if it were still the regular season.
Do players in the NHL get paid extra for playoffs? Yes, but not by their teams. Per the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, the NHL allocates $20,000,000 which is distributed to players on teams that participate in the playoffs, this is referred to as the “player fund”. The money is distributed by the national hockey league players’ association, subject to league approval.
NHL players get paid these bonuses in the off-season, and they are separate from regular salary payments.
Here’s a look at how the playoff player fund was distributed for the 2020-2021 season.
How much money does each player get?
The amount of money each player gets from the NHL player fund is determined by the team in question.
Each team who has qualified for an NHL playoff bonus will vote on how many shares they give out. Players who have played fewer games will earn a smaller share of the bonus compared to players who have participated in every game of the playoffs. Regular players in the lineup will always end up receiving an equal share of the bonus.
Not all situations are the same, and the playoff bonuses are divvied up on a team to team bases.
For example, the Tampa Bay Lightning earned a $5,781,250 bonus from the player fund after winning the 2020-21 Stanley Cup. Based on a 23-man roster, if the lightning decided to divide the bonus equally amongst players, everyone would have received $251,358.70. Not bad at all.
NHL playoff bonuses over the years
Player fund bonuses awarded to teams in the playoffs are negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the NHL and the NHLPA.
Throughout the years and as the league’s revenue has increased, so has the amount put into the playoff player fund. With the obvious exception of the 2020-21 season, in which the league lost a lot of money due to current events.
The player fund is a way of the league sharing revenue generated throughout the season as well as playoffs with the players, because after all, if there were no players the league wouldn’t be making any money. It’s only fair!
Here’s a chart detailing how NHL playoff payments to players have changed over the years.
How NHL’s playoff bonuses stack up against other leagues
Playoffs are an exciting time of year, no matter the league. People’s interest picks up, which means league revenue also picks up. This leads to hefty bonuses for teams participating in the playoffs.
Let’s take a look at how the NHL playoff player fund compares to that of other major sporting leagues.
I was unable to find the numbers for the NFL, but as you can see, the NHL surprisingly is pretty on par with the NBA when it comes to postseason money distribution.
MLB is in a league of its own, which makes sense, as they generate more money than both the NHL and NBA.
Do NHL players earn playoff bonuses from their teams?
Teams will often incentivize players throughout the NHL season with all sorts of bonuses for different achievements like goals, assists, points, games played etc., but can players get bonuses for making the playoffs?
Playoff player bonuses are only allowed for players who are on entry level contracts or are over the age of 35 and even then it is pretty rare. Other than that, it’s currently against the rules of the NHL for teams to promise their players bonuses for either making the playoffs or winning the Stanley Cup.
Even though players on entry level contracts and players 35 years of age and older can receive playoff bonuses as part of their contracts, it’s pretty rare these days.
So, as of now, it is very rare that a player would receive a playoff bonus from anyone other than the league itself.
Players don’t really care about playoff bonuses
Let’s be real, a $250,000 bonus after winning the cup sounds amazing to you and me. But how exciting is that to a player, like Nikita Kucherov for example, who made $9,000,000 this season. He likely wouldn’t even notice it hitting his account!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure the fourth liner on a team who makes league minimum surely appreciates the extra bonus check at the end of the playoffs.
But generally, players only care about one thing come playoff time, and that’s winning the trophy each one of them had dreams about when they were just children playing in novice.
It’s pretty cool that the NHL pools together some money for the players of teams that make the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Although depending on whether the player is amongst the highest paid or lowest paid NHL players, the bonuses may not seem like much of an incentive to them.
In the end, players aren’t really competing in the playoffs for the bonuses, they want to fulfill their childhood dream of winning the Stanley Cup.