Free Gear vs. Freedom: Equipment Deals Vary Greatly Across NHL, AHL

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Today's piece is contributed by ProStockHockey.

It must be great to be a pro athlete, right? Fame, travel, the finest hotels and the best gear for free.

Not just free — the equipment guys pay you to use their gear.

After all, LeBron James is going to be wearing Nike for the rest of his life, to the tune of, reportedly, more than $1 billion. Twenty-time Grand Slam tennis champ Roger Federer gets $10 million a year from Nike and another $2 million per year from his racket company, Wilson.

Ah, but pro hockey isn’t pro basketball. Or tennis. Heck, it isn’t even golf.

Let’s Make a Deal
You’d think the players would get any piece of equipment they want, and companies would pay for the privilege of giving it to them.

Well, yes, they do. In golf. And it’s not just pros. College players, promising juniors, even decent amateurs of any age can score free clubs and attendant paraphernalia.

Other sports? Not so fast.

Baseball players don’t get free bats. Top sluggers might get a discount, and teams will pay for their players’ bats, but that’s it. Of course, it’s not like the free advertising of using a wooden bat on television is going to help the manufacturers — virtually nobody except the pros use them.

Hockey, at least for most players at the NHL level, is a lot like baseball. Players can use any equipment they want, and it is either provided by the manufacturer or the team, but few players are getting paid to play a certain stick, skate or glove.

To the Winners Go the Spoils
The best — and often best-compensated — players are most likely hauling in some sponsorship cash to go with their free gear.

According to, the NHL’s highest-paid player is the Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews, whose $13.8 million salary is augmented by $2.2 million in endorsements — which includes deals with Chevrolet, Upper Deck, Frameworth Hallmark and Canadian Tire, in addition to his equipment partner, Bauer.

Forbes estimated that only Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin earn more off the ice than Toews.

Crosby makes nearly $5 million in endorsements. Ovechkin, who returned to his first NHL equipment partner, CCM, this season after a six-year deal with Bauer expired, is at $4.5 million.

It’s hard to pin down the exact value of gear sponsorship deals in the NHL, but in 2015 Crosby signed a six-year deal with Adidas reportedly worth more than $1 million per year — and at the time, Adidas owned CCM — still Crosby’s stick and skate brand of choice.

While that’s not NBA sneaker contract money, neither is it chump change. However, Crosby is among the greatest ever to play the game. Some money trickles down, but some of the zeroes don’t.

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
How It Works for the Rank and File
As recently as a few years ago, it was common for second- and third-line players in solid NHL markets to get in the low to mid four figures for a one-year stick deal. If you happened to be on the roster in Toronto, you might get a little more, or the checks would travel farther down the bench. On the other hand, if you were in Atlanta …

One stick manufacturer waded into the market in a big way in the early 2010s, pushing gear deals into the mid five-figure range — by one account, typically giving one third of the value in gear, two thirds in cash.

While that gambit may have changed the market, that market is still competitive. According to, which tracks NHL equipment use, the league’s players use:
  • Dozens of stick varieties from seven manufacturers
  • Gloves from eight manufacturers
  • Skates from six manufacturers
  • Pants from five manufacturers
  • Helmets from four manufacturers
In the first three categories above, equipment companies CCM and Bauer rank 1-2 in terms of popularity. In the other two categories, the order is reversed. Warrior is No. 3 for sticks, gloves, pants and helmets, while True ranks third for skates.

Freedom of choice is one thing NHL players enjoy compared to their American Hockey League counterparts.

Join Together With the Brand

The AHL, founded in 1936 and today the NHL’s minor league development arm, signed a five-year extension in 2016 of a multiyear deal with CCM as its exclusive supplier of sticks, gloves, pants, helmets and jerseys.

That partnership was established in 2005, and, in terms of reach into a player’s locker, may be unparalleled in pro sports. Considering that more than 88 percent of current NHL players did time in the AHL, it’s no surprise that CCM is so widely used by NHL players.

Indeed, it’s interesting to note that the one piece of equipment that CCM doesn’t supply exclusively to the AHL — skates — is the CCM item chosen least often by NHL players. According to Gear Geek, just 19.5 percent of current NHL players use CCM skates.

But, while familiarity and brand loyalty seem to be paying off for CCM, it goes only so far. Some players seem eager to try out new products once they reach the NHL. Consider that CCM has no better than a 42 percent share of the NHL market in any equipment segment, hitting that number in pants and helmet usage.

Author bio: AJ Lee is Marketing Coordinator for Pro Stock Hockey, an online hockey shop offering authentic pro stock hockey equipment. He was born and raised in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, and has been a huge Blackhawks fan his entire life. AJ picked up his first hockey stick at age 3 and hasn’t put it down yet.