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Tax Law Blog: Netting Tax Savings Found to be a Goal of Many NHL Free Agents - October 8, 2015

A recent study revealed that a majority of National Hockey League (NHL) players changing teams choose teams in locations with lower taxes. The study, “Major Penalty for High Taxes” was jointly conducted by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) and the Americans for Tax Reform (ATR). The study reviewed salaries for the 2014-15 NHL season, and estimated the income taxes and payroll taxes of NHL players on each team, assuming each player is a resident of the city where the team is located. For simplification, the study did not take into account the “jock taxes” certain states impose upon visiting players. 

Generally, a player moving to a higher-taxing jurisdiction would wish to be paid more, all else equal, than moving to a team with lower tax rates. However, NHL teams are bound by a team salary cap of $69 million, making it very difficult to adjust players’ wages in response to tax rates. The study found that when a player changes teams, 54% of the unrestricted free agents, and 60% of players with a no-trade clause, choose teams with lower taxes.

This has not resulted in a substantial shift in success on the ice for such teams in low-tax cities and states. Rather, the study was intended to show that taxes are a serious consideration for NHL players when changing teams. These results likely would apply to other sports leagues with salary caps.

Some particularly interesting findings were as follows:

  • Tyler Myers, with a no-trade clause in his contract, could elect the team to which he would be traded. Myers saved an estimated $474,146 in taxes by moving from the Buffalo Sabres to the Winnipeg Jets.
  • Keith Yandle did not have a no-trade clause in his contract, and was traded from the Arizona Coyotes to the New York Rangers. This move added roughly $364,964 to Yandle’s tax bill.
  • Francois Beauchemin, an unrestricted free agent, chose to sign with the Colorado Avalanche, rather than re-sign with the Anaheim Ducks, saving him an estimated $366,483 in taxes.

While many people may not have strong feelings about the caliber of hockey player your city attracts, certainly you care about the quality of other mobile professionals that choose your city, for example, doctors, engineers, or professors. High tax rates not only deter highly paid athletes, but also without a corresponding pay increase, may tend to repel the most skilled individuals in a variety of mobile professions.