It was not all that long ago that National Hockey League players had to work a summer job to make ends meet. Phil Esposito, one of the greatest goal scorers the NHL has ever seen, had been in the league several years, won major trophies and shattered the league’s scoring records before he was able to quit his summer job in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada.
It is known by all what ridiculous amounts of money today’s NHL hockey players make. It is to the point where you have to question whether they love to play the game or are just in it for the cash. In saying that, there are lesser leagues in North America that serve as farm systems for NHL clubs that provide jobs for hundreds of players. These players truly must love the game because it wouldn’t be hard to find a better paying job.
A number of these teams play in front of relatively small crowds with ticket prices substantially lower than that of the NHL venues. Yet, a number of players enjoy long careers in these lesser leagues without ever making it to the show. A fair portion of these players even have full university educations. Is playing a minor league hockey career lucrative?
A step below the NHL is the American Hockey League. If you’re playing on an AHL team, chances are there’s an NHL team with a close eye on your performance. For the 2010-11 season, the AHL has a minimum salary of $37,500USD for players on United States based teams and $40,000USD for players on Canada based teams (when the bargaining agreement was set, who would have thought that the Canadian dollar would surpass the greenback in value!). Keep in mind that equipment and travel expenses are provided by the team in addition to that salary. Not too shabby for playing a game for a living.
Feeding the AHL is the East Coast Hockey League. In the ECHL, pay standards are on a weekly basis. For a rookie, the minimum weekly wage is $370USD. For a player that has played in over 25 ECHL games before the start of the current season, the minimum is $410USD. Like the AHL, equipment and travel expenses are paid for as well as moving expenses if a player is traded mid-season. Considerably lower than the AHL but keep in mind that this is the bare minimum a player can receive. Once again, this is money being paid to play a game that each player should be passionate about.
The Central Hockey League is yet another step lower. The pay however, isn’t that drastically different from the ECHL. Minimum for a rookie in the CHL is $335USD per week and for a ‘veteran’ it is $375USD. Once again, expenses are paid and this number reflects the absolute minimum with players possibly making considerably more.
So, what is the minimum wage in the NHL? The poorest player in the league makes $500,000 for a one year contract. It seems like a lot but the odds are so against someone earning a spot in the league, that they do deserve it. In Canada alone, there are 577,000 registered minor hockey players. These players are gunning for one of sixty Canadian Hockey League teams to play at the elite level of junior hockey. From these sixty teams, only a handful will move on to an NHL club each year. Add in the hundreds of thousands of potential players from hockey producing countries like the USA, Sweden, Finland and Russia and you have a better chance of winning the lottery jackpot than playing in the NHL.