How Much Do NHL Refs Make? A Financial Overview

A hockey ref looks on at the game.

NHL refs aren’t noticeable on the ice until it’s time to call a penalty or they make a mistake. But NHL refs make a lot of money to go unnoticed and not make mistakes.

So, how much do NHL refs make?

NHL refs make just under $200,000 for their first year, and the highest-paid NHL referees make $400,000 per year. NHL linemen make slightly less, with first-year linemen making $110,000 and the highest-paid earning $235,000 per year. Refs earn bonuses between $12,000 and $18,000 for playoff games.

This article explains how much NHL referees make per year, per game, and in the playoffs. We also compare NHL referee salaries to officials in other professional sports and explain how you can become an NHL ref. Finally, we go over the pay for referees at different levels of hockey.

How Much Do NHL Refs Make?

During the 2021-2022 season, NHL referees made a minimum of $300,000 per year, with the most experienced referees making $400,000 or more each year.

A job posting that we’ll dive into deeper later in the article states that the starting salary for a first-year referee in 2018 is between $193,174 and $224,569 per year, which is a significant increase for less than a decade.

How Much Do NHL Referees Make Per Game?

As we’ll explain later in the article, most referees work 60-65 games per season, with first-year referees making around $200,000 per year before any bonuses.

If we divide the salary of $200,000 by the average number of games, full-time referees make a little over $3,000 per game. And this is just for the newest referees. Referees with years of experience make around $5,000 per game.

However, their salary also covers travel days, the off-season, training, and other mandatory events. So when you consider all the other obligations, it’s estimated that referees make $500-$2,000 per game, depending on their experience. The rest of their salary covers the other events they have to attend.

How Much Do NHL Linesmen Make in the NHL?

NHL linesmen don’t make quite as much as referees, but they still make quite a bit for only working a few hours per night for 10 or so months out of the year. In the 2022 season, NHL linesmen made $200,000-$350,000 per year. The highest-paid lineman made more than double that at $235,000 per year.

How Much Do Refs Get Paid for the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are the most intense games of the year for players and referees. If the referees in these games make even a small mistake, the players, coaches, and fans will never let them forget it.

But, there are benefits for the referees who can handle these high-pressure games. For each Stanley Cup playoff game they work, referees earn an additional $18,000 on average. The linesmen make around $12,000 per playoff game.

These bonuses are just the average, so the amount might be slightly lower for games early in the playoffs and higher for the Stanley Cup Finals.

Who Is the Highest-Paid NHL Referee?

A hockey ref wipes down his face during a timeout.

Brad Meier and Tom Chmielewski are tied for the highest-paid NHL referees making $400,000 per year. Their pay per game is $2,000. The rest of the money referees earn is for their time spent traveling, training, and at any other events, referees are required to attend.

How Many Games Do NHL Referees Work Per Season?

Full-time referees work 60-65 games per season. Each NHL team plays 82 games in the regular season, so the referees get some additional rest and travel days compared to the teams. 

Some part-time referees split their time between the NHL and AHL or just aren’t assigned a full schedule. These referees don’t referee as many NHL games per season as the full-time season. They referee 0-30 games on average.

Referees who ref zero games in a season due so because of leave or injuries.

NHL Officiating Salaries vs Other Sports

Just like NHL referees, officials who work in other professional sports leagues earn six figures for a season of work.

In the NBA, it’s estimated that officials earn $250,000 for their first year in the NBA, and the highest-paid officials can make $500,000 or more for one season.

Like the NHL, the NBA requires officials to be in great physical shape to keep up with the players on the court. And, they need to know the rules and call the right penalties if they want to avoid having the crowd and teams be mad at them.

NFL officials make an average of $205,000 per season, with huge bonuses for working playoff games. Officials who work the Super Bowl earn a $40,000-$50,000 bonus.

NFL officials get paid the most per game, considering they only officiate games once or twice a week for half the year.

Finally, MLB umpires make $110,000-$432,000, depending on their experience in the league. Then, they get additional bonuses in the playoffs depending on the number and level of games worked, with a $38,500 bonus for every umpire at the end of the season.

MLB umpires work the most games per year, but their travel schedule isn’t as demanding as NHL referees since they can work a series at one field for a few days before moving.

How Do You Become an NHL Referee?

A hockey ref prepares to drop the puck for a faceoff.

To be an NHL referee, you need to dedicate a lot of time and energy to learning the rules and staying fit.

There was a job posting from the NHL looking for referees that give us an insight into the qualifications you need to become a referee.

First, you need to be in shape to be an NHL referee. Most referees play hockey before they switch to refereeing, so they have the skating experience. The job post requires referees to have three years of playing experience before being an NHL ref. And their playing experience needs to be at the college or minor league level.

While referees don’t skate as fast as the players, they’re on the ice for three long periods with no breaks like the players have. They have to have a lot of stamina to be on skates and move around for as long as they do.

There’s also an expectation that referees follow a nutrition plan, so there’s a high focus on health and fitness. Next, you need experience as a hockey referee. Many hockey referees start out working youth hockey games, then work their way up to the minors until they can get a job in the NHL.

The job posting above requires NHL referees to have five years of experience refereeing hockey before joining the league. These five years can be in either junior or minor league hockey.

Even though you have the minimum amount of experience to be a referee doesn’t mean you can automatically become one. There are just over 70 NHL referees, so until they need more, you will have to continue to referee in the minors.

So, many NHL referees spend a lot of time in the minor leagues, whether they want to practice their skills more or because there are no jobs available in the NHL.

Finally, referees travel a lot since they have to referee for 32 teams in the US and Canada. The job posting states that they have to be based in a city that the NHL chooses, then travel to their assigned games from that city.

They can’t always live in the same city because they would always be refereeing for the same team or two, which would be unfair. They typically live in larger cities with airports that can get them to all the cities with NHL teams.

How Much Do Youth Hockey Refs Make?

Youth hockey referees are paid $30 to $75 per game, depending on their experience and the level of players. While this doesn’t seem like a lot, youth hockey games aren’t as physically demanding as NHL games, so youth hockey referees can work multiple games in one day or multiple days in a row.

How Much Do College Hockey Refs Make?

College hockey refs make the most money per game out of all the referees outside of the minor and professional leagues. The average pay for an NCAA hockey referee is $400 per game. In lower NCAA divisions, referees make less per game, and in Division 1 games, they make the most money.

How Much Do OHL Hockey Refs Make?

The exact salary for OHL, or Ontario Hockey League, referees is unknown, but it’s estimated that they make around 80,000 Canadian dollars, which is around $63,000.

How Much Do WHL Hockey Refs Make?

We also don’t know how much WHL (Western Hockey League) officials make, but it’s likely similar to the OHL salary of $60,000 per year.

How Much Do AHL Hockey Refs Make?

AHL (American Hockey League) refs make $75,000-$100,000 each year, depending on their experience. Like the NHL, linesmen in the AHL are paid less than the referees. A linesman in the AHL earns $50,000-$60,000 per year.

Referees in the AHL make much less than their NHL counterparts. But, most referees work in the AHL to gain experience before moving up to the NHL, so the lower pay is worth it for the practice and training.

How Much Do ECHL Hockey Refs Make?

The exact pay for East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) hockey refs is unknown. The ECHL is one level below the AHL and higher than college hockey, so the pay should be between that of ECHL and AHL referees.

How Much Do KHL Hockey Refs Make?

The pay for referees in the KHL, or Kontinental Hockey League, is unknown, but we know there’s a punishment system for referees who make mistakes. If the KHL Officials Association determines that a referee has a bad game, they can lose one to four percent of their annual pay.

And, they need to constantly perform well throughout the season if they want to keep their end-of-season bonuses. Only the best referees are allowed to referee the following season.

Steven G.

My name is Steven and I love everything sports! I created this website to share my passion with all of you. Enjoy!

Recent Posts