How Much Do NHL Refs Make?
Have you ever seen an NHL referee accidentally get punched in the face and wondered to yourself, “I wonder how much that guy gets paid”? If so, we’re here to tell you the answer. If you’ve never thought that, stick around anyway, and we’ll explain everything you need to know about how much NHL refs make, including how to become an NHL ref and how NHL ref salaries stack up compared to referees in other sports.
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💵 NHL Referees Salaries
The NHL doesn’t publish NHL referee salaries, but most estimates say NHL referees make between $200,000-360,000. A very senior NHL referee salary can even be as high as $460,000 per year. Linesmen make slightly less, but we’ll explain that more a little later, along with some other specifics about NHL ref salaries below.
How Much Do NHL Referees Make on Average?
If we use the range of $200,000-360,000, we can make an educated guess that the average NHL referee’s salary is close to $280,000 a year. If we include the senior referee rate, which is a bit of an outlier, the average is about $330,000 per season. Either way, this is impressive money compared to your regular average Joe but relatively little compared to what NHL players make. In 2022, the average NHL player’s salary was $3.5 million. This means the average NHL ref’s salary is less than 10% of what the average NHL player makes in a season.
Who Sets The Salaries For NHL Referees?
Even though NHL officials’ salaries are much less than what NHL players make in a year, the method for setting salaries is very similar for both. The National Hockey League Officials’ Association (the NHL referee union) negotiates with the NHL to set work standards, retirement benefits, pay rates, and much more. When these negotiations are concluded, the parties agree to a deal. This deal is called a collective bargaining agreement.
This is the exact same method NHL players use to agree to the terms of their employment with the NHL. The only difference is that instead of being represented by the National Hockey League Officials’ Association, NHL players are represented by the National Hockey League Players’ Association.
Where Does The Majority of an NHL Referee’s Salary Come From?
NHL referees get their money from the NHL directly. Obviously, some of it goes to retirement plans, taxes, and other things you have to contribute to as a part of working any job, but the majority of an NHL referee’s salary comes directly from the league into the ref’s pocket.
🏒 NHL Refs Pay During the Season
NHL refs are only paid for the games they ref, so they are not paid during the off-season. Because of this, some referees get off-ice jobs for the off-season. You’re not here to hear about refs who are also accountants, though, are you? Let’s get into the breakdown of how NHL refs are paid during the season.
How Much Do NHL Referees Make in a Season?
NHL refs are paid per game, and salaries depend on experience and position, so there can be a wide range. Most NHL refs make between $200,000-$360,000. Senior referees with 15 or more years of officiating experience can make close to half a million dollars per season.
How Much Do NHL Referees Make Per Game?
Most NHL refs are expected to ref between 50-73 games per season, with most working a full 73. This means the average NHL ref makes between $2,700 and $5,000 per game. Experienced referees can make $6,300 for just one game. We can break this down even further. For a 60-minute NHL game, an NHL referee can earn up to $105 a minute for every minute they are on the ice. There is a way off-ice refs can make money, too, during the season. Backup referees are paid about $1,000 per game just for showing up to the stadium. If they are called up and become on-ice referees, they are paid their normal per-game rate.
How Much Do Referees Earn in the Playoffs?
NHL playoff games are not a part of an NHL ref’s salary. Instead, refs selected to call playoff games are given a $27,000 bonus for every round they call in the playoffs.
How Much Do Linesmen Make?
For those not super familiar with hockey, linesmen are the refs you see mostly hanging around the blue line. They are kind of auxiliary referees in charge or making calls like icing and offside. Because they have a slightly limited role compared to the main refs, linesmen make a little less money than full-fledged NHL refs, but they still make a good bit of cash compared to the average person. An average linesmen’s salary is between $110,000 and $230,000.
💰 What Factors Affect NHL Refs Earnings?
The biggest factors affecting how much money NHL refs make are their experience and position.
How Do NHL Referee Salaries Vary By Position?
NHL referees are paid more than linesmen. When you’re watching a game, the two officials with armbands make between $200,000 and $460,000 per season. The officials lacking this bright orange fashion accessory (the linesmen) make only between $110,000 and $230,000 per season.
How Do NHL Referee Salaries Vary By Experience?
Simply put, the more experienced a referee you are, the more you get paid. As we’ve mentioned a few times in this article, once you’ve been an NHL ref for over 15 years, you can make up to $460,000 per year. On the other hand, entry-level referees make just $200,000 per season. Luckily for those entry-level referees, they can expect an incremental pay rise every year. This means that there is quite a difference in the pay of NHL referees depending on their experience.
💡 More Facts About NHL Refs
Now that we’ve discussed how much NHL refs make let’s get into some of the other fun facts about the zebras we see skating around the rink with some of the NHL’s biggest stars.
How Do You Become an NHL Referee?
Most NHL referees were former players who took up refereeing to stay involved with the game they love. However, becoming an NHL referee is something anyone can do by reaching out to their local governing authority. In Canada, the local governing authority is Hockey Canada. In the US, there is USA Hockey. If you have an established local organization governing hockey on a smaller level in your area, you can go to them to get started on your journey to becoming an NHL referee.
Once you’ve earned your stripes by reffing at a lower level for five years, you can receive more training from the National Hockey League Officials’ Association. If you continue your development and pass the National Hockey League Officials’ Association evaluations, you can be an NHL referee.
Where Do NHL Referees Receive Their Training?
Training at all authorized local organizations and with the National Hockey League Officials’ Association is done through official training schools, camps, and power skating sessions. The NHL also holds officials’ training camps before the season, and NHL Exposure Officiating Combines to discover new officiating talent. These events have occurred in Buffalo, Ontario, and various other places that host NHL teams.
How Many Years Do Most NHL Referees Officiate?
If you reach the status of being an NHL referee, you will be set for a long time. The majority of NHL referees stay in business for at least five years, with many being NHL referees for more than ten or 15 years. The longest-serving referee ever is Kerry Fraser, who refereed for nearly 40 years. In his 37-year NHL officiating career, Fraser called 1,904 regular season games.
🆚 NHL Refs VS Other Sports Refs
How Do NHL Referee Salaries Compare to Other Sports Leagues? Here is a comparison of the life of an NHL referee against officials from other major sports leagues across North America. One obvious difference between NHL refs and refs in other sports is that NHL refs are on skates. Because of this, some people say NHL refs are more skilled because it requires elite ice skating skills to keep up with some of the best ice skaters in the world. We tend to agree with this argument, but does the NHL? Let’s take a look by comparing how much NHL refs make compared to refs in other sports.
NHL VS NBA Refs Salaries
Even though NBA refs don’t have to worry about slipping on the ice or getting punched in the face, they actually make more than NHL refs, on average, at least. The reported range for NBA salaries is wider, but the average salary is likely higher. NBA refs make between $180,000 and $550,000 a year. Some estimates even say the entry-level salary for NBA refs is as much as $250,000 per year.
NHL VS NFL Refs Salaries
While NBA referees are paid more than NHL refs, NFL refs seem to be getting the short end of the stick. The average NFL ref salary is just $205,000 per season. The highest-paid refs can make a whopping $250,000. This is as much as some reports say entry-level NBA refs make and below the average NHL referee salary. To make it worse for NFL referees, their job with the NFL is just a part-time gig. In addition, the NFL provides no pension plan and no healthcare benefits.
⬆️ What Are The NHL Referee Job Satisfaction Rates?
There aren’t any concrete details on how satisfied most referees are with their jobs, but we have to assume that the vast majority are okay with their lot in life, considering how many NHL refs have long careers as refs. Another thing that points to NHL refs being happy is the lack of strikes in recent years. The most recent NHL referee strike was in 1998. For context, NFL refs went on strike as recently as 2012 in a dispute over retirement packages and referee salaries between the NFL referee union and the NFL.
What Is The NHL Referee Retirement Plan?
As a part of their collective bargaining agreement with the NHL, NHL referees get a very generous retirement plan. They are guaranteed a pension, which is provided by the NHL and National Hockey League Officials’ Association. Insurance is also taken care of. Former referees get medical, dental, and life insurance covered. They even get career counselling if they are still wanting to work in a different field following their NHL retirement.
❓FAQs About NHL Refs Salaries
Here’s a basic summary of what we’ve covered in this article.
Depending on their level of experience, NHL refs make between $2,700 and $6,300 per game. Considering a game takes only a few hours, this is a very solid rate.
Yes, very good money. A rookie NHL referee salary is $200,000, which is more than 2.5 times more than the average Canadian makes in a year. Senior refs can make $460,000 per season, which is more than most doctors make per year in Canada.
You have to start out at the bottom and work your way up. This means refereeing games for little or no money at first until you’ve built enough experience to move your way up. It takes a minimum of five years of refereeing lower-league hockey before you’re eligible to be an NHL ref.
NHL refs are in charge of securing their travel accommodations and ensuring they make it where they need to be when assigned to a game. They don’t travel with teams. The NHL reimburses their travel expenses, though, so NHL refs aren’t out of pocket for all the commercial flights they take every year.
Referees work where they are assigned, just like they would in the regular season. However, not all referees are called up to ref playoff games, so some refs are at home watching the games just like us.
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Rowan is a sports betting journalist with an established presence in the sports media industry through his thought-invoking coverage and commentary surrounding major leagues like the NBA, NFL, and NCAA. While Rowan specializes in NBA, NFL, and NCAA college sports coverage, he consistently follows and reports on every major sport in North America.