NHL entry-level contract, explained: How much can rookies make on their first NHL deal?

NHL free agency is just around the corner, but the new deals being made may not be the first contracts of the offseason getting handed out. 

The 2023 NHL Draft is set to take place this week, starting on Wednesday, June 28. There will be over 200 players drafted and with that, some players will be signing their first NHL contract. 

Contracts in hockey can be tricky, especially when it comes to the initial ones given out to rookies. 

Here’s a closer look at the kind of deals that first-year players can sign in the NHL.


Final 2023 mock draft | Top 100 big board

NHL entry-level contracts and salaries

Entry-level contracts (ELC) are the first deals given to rookies once they join their NHL club. These players are limited in the type of contract that they can sign.

Any player younger than 25 as of Sept. 15 during the year of their first contract must sign an entry-level contract, according to CapFriendly. Every entry-level contract is a two-way deal and the maximum salary for a player that is drafted in 2023 is set at $950,000 annually. 

With that said, entry-level contracts can include signing and performance bonuses, so the total a player makes can exceed $950,000 per year, but there are still limits to that.

According to CapFriendly, signing bonuses may not exceed 10% of the contract’s total, and that is paid to players annually. Performance bonuses for entry-level contracts are paid by the team and count against the salary cap. Those bonuses can’t exceed the maximum of $3.5 million.

The length of the ELC depends on the age of the player. Here is a breakdown of the contract length:

  • 18-21 years of age: 3 years
  • 22-23 years of age: 2 years
  • 24 years of age: 1 year

What is an NHL entry-level slide?

The NHL is different from other professional leagues in the fact that just because a player signs an entry-level contract, does not mean they are immediately playing for an organization. 

The NHL has what is called an “entry-level slide.” If a player signs his entry-level contract and is either 18 or 19 years old before Sept. 15 of the signing year and does not play 10 games in the NHL that season, their entry-level contract is extended by one year. 

There are some exceptions. If a player is 19 years old on Sept. 15 of their signing year but turns 20 between Sept. 16 and Dec. 31, the contract does not slide. In addition, a player who is 18 on Sept. 15 of their signing year may get to slide the contract for two years, unless they turn 19 between Sept. 16 and Dec. 31. Then it only slides for one year. 

An example of this took place last year with Brandt Clarke, a 2021 first-round pick of the Kings. He started the NHL season with the Kings, but after playing nine games, he was sent back to his major junior team so that way Los Angeles did not burn a year off his entry-level contract. 

MORE: NHL Draft order 2023: Updated list of all 224 picks over seven rounds

NHL mock draft 2023

Here are the latest projected picks for the 2023 NHL Draft from TSN’s Bryan Murphy:

Pick Team Selection
No. 1 Chicago Blackhawks Connor Bedard, C, Regina (WHL)
No. 2 Anaheim Ducks Adam Fantilli, C, Michigan (NCAA)
No. 3 Columbus Blue Jackets Will Smith, C, USA U18 (NTDP)
No. 4 San Jose Sharks Leo Carlsson, C, Örebro HK (SHL)
No. 5 Montreal Canadiens Ryan Leonard, RW, USA USA U18 (NTDP)
No. 6 Arizona Coyotes Matvei Michkov, RW, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
No. 7 Philadelphia Flyers Dalibor Dvorsky, C, AIK (HockeyAllsvenskan)
No. 8 Washington Capitals David Reinbacher, D, Kloten (Swiss National League)
No. 9 Detroit Red Wings Gabe Perreault, LW, USA U18 (NTDP)
No. 10 St. Louis Blues Zach Benson, LW, Winnipeg (WHL)

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