Auston Matthews recent extension with the Toronto Maple Leafs has earned him the title of highest-paid player in the NHL. His new deal doesn’t kick in until 2024-25, but at that point, he will make an average annual salary of $13.25MM (CapFriendly) per season for four years. Prior to his new deal, Matthews was the fourth highest-paid player in the game behind Nathan MacKinnon, Connor McDavid and Artemi Panarin.
MacKinnon’s new eight-year $100.8MM deal kicks in this season which will make him the highest-paid player in the league at $12.6MM for this year. His actual salary is much higher than his cap hit at $16.5MM, but the final four years of his deal will back-dive to $9.9MM in salary. McDavid has three years left on his current deal with a cap hit of $12.5MM while Panarin’s deal also concludes in three seasons and pays him $11.642MM annually.
With Matthews having topped MacKinnon’s new extension by over $600K annually the question now becomes, who will be the NHL’s next highest-paid player?
Connor McDavid – McDavid is the obvious answer. He is arguably the best player in the game and undoubtedly the best player in the world with the puck on his stick. The Richmond Hill, Ontario native will be 29 years old when he reaches unrestricted free agency and could essentially ask teams for a blank check and fill in the maximum salary under the salary cap. That is if he remains the best player in the world. While it seems hard to believe there is a world in which McDavid isn’t the game’s most explosive player, three years is a long time, and in hockey, it can be an eternity. There is also another Connor who could be the one to top Matthews’ extension.
Connor Bedard – It seems crazy that Bedard has yet to play a minute in the NHL and he could conceivably be the next highest-paid player in the NHL. But it could happen. Bedard signed his three-year entry-level contract with the Chicago Blackhawks on July 17th and should be a lock to make their opening night lineup. He will become a restricted free agent in 2026, the same time that McDavid becomes a UFA. It is fair to wonder how Bedard will produce once he is playing against men in the NHL, especially given that he will be playing on a bad Blackhawks team that will have its struggles. But he dominated the WHL with 71 goals and 72 assists in 57 games and obliterated the competition at the World Junior Championships with nine goals and 14 assists in 7 games. He’s a phenom, and in three years he could be paid like one.
Leon Draisaitl – Draisaitl has been one of the best bargains in the NHL since signing his eight-year $68MM contract back in August of 2017. All he has done during his six years under this contract is score 50+ goals three times, top 100 points four times, and win a Hart Trophy as well as an Art Ross Trophy. At 27-years-old Draisaitl is coming off the best season of his career having posted 52 goals and 76 assists in 80 games.
All things considered, it seems likely that Draisaitl will top Matthews’ contract two seasons from now when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. The native of Cologne, Germany will be 29 years old, and the salary cap should go up substantially between now and then positioning him to cash in big with any team of his choosing. Draisaitl will likely hold onto that distinction for just one season as McDavid and Bedard will be following right behind him and could top Draisaitl to earn the title of the highest-paid player in the NHL.