Top 5 'real money' earners for the 2020 - 2021 season.

Some big money being tossed around.

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These days when covering the National Hockey League and its players we often find ourselves on the topic of player contracts, a product of the NHL's salary cap era that has made managing money of vital importance to each and every team in the league. When discussing those contracts we almost always talk in terms of average annual value (AAV) because that is the number that will represent a player's salary cap hit over the length of his deal. The AAV however does not accurately represent how much 'real money' a player will earn over the course of a given season.

What I mean by 'real money' here is the actual amount of cold hard cash a player will be bringing home in a given contract year, including both signing bonuses and player salary. Of course taxes in a specific country or state will alter the final amount that a player actually receives, as will things like escrow from the NHL and a percentage taken by their management, but those factors will not be taken into account here.

In the modern era of the NHL it has become something of a custom for star players to earn heavily front-loaded contracts, deals that create a drastic difference between the highest and lowest earning years of a contract. Those deals also result in pretty hefty earning years for some of the game's top stars and in more recent years that has also translated to some massive signing bonuses. Keeping that in mind, here's a look at the 5 players that will take in the most in terms of 'real money' over the course of the upcoming season.

#1 Auston Matthews.

The Toronto Maple Leafs star inked an ultra lucrative 5 year $58.17 million deal with the Leafs in 2019 and it will continue to pay him gigantic money this upcoming season. Matthews, who's AAV is $11.634 million, will earn a combined total of $15.9 million in real dollars this season, $15.2 million of which will come in the form of a gigantic signing bonus.

#2 Mitchell Marner.

Another Maple Leafs forward who signed an ultra lucrative deal in 2019, Marner will enter the second highest earning year of his current deal. Like Matthews, Marner will earn the majority of his $15 million in real money through a signing bonus and in his case that bonus will be $14.3 million for next season. His actual cap hit is just $10.893 million.

#3 Connor McDavid

The Edmonton Oilers captain signed a huge deal worth $100 million in 2017 and will be entering the third year of that contract. McDavid remains in the big money years of that contract and will earn $14 million in real money this season, $13 million of which will come in the form of a signing bonus. His AAV is only $12.5 million per season.

#4 Artemi Panarin.

Panarin signed a big 7 year deal with the New York Rangers in 2019, one that carries a cap hit of $11.642 million per season, and is currently in the highest earning years of that lucrative deal. Panarin will earn $13 million this season and like the others at the top of this list he will earn the majority of that via a signing bonus. Panarin's signing bonus comes in at a modest $12 million for this season.

#5 Erik Karlsson.

The San Jose Sharks gave star defenseman Erik Karlsson a huge deal in 2019 and he will be reaping the rewards this season, cracking the top 5 on this list. Karlsson will earn $12 million in real money with a signing bonus of $10 million from the Sharks, not that far off from his actual cap hit of $11.5 million. Expect to see Karlsson back on this list next season however as he is set to earn a whopping $14.5 million in real dollars for the 2022 - 2023 season.