Some might argue that watching the NHL referees whip around on the ice, dodge stray pucks, and break up fights between players is clear evidence that hockey referees are some of the most talented officials in sports. They have to be in great shape, have lightning-fast reflexes, and come face-to-face with the biggest, fiercest ice hockey players in the world.
Of course, with any sport, NHL officials can either be your hero or your worst enemy depending on how they call the game. If they make calls you disagree with, you probably think they’re paid too much. If they make calls in your team’s favor, you probably think they aren’t paid enough. So how much are NHL refs paid anyways?
While referees will likely never make as much as NHL players do, they are compensated well for their officiating. The average NHL referee salary is broken down below.
How Much do NHL Referees Make per Game?
In 2018, an infamous screenshot of a job posting for NHL referee circulated on the internet, advertising a pay range between $193,174 and $224,569 and only requiring a high school diploma, five years of officiating experience, and three years of experience as a amateur, minor league, or collegiate hockey player. Doesn’t sound like a bad gig at all!
Today, the average salary of an NHL referee—the ones with the orange arm bands—ranges between $165,000 and $400,000 per regular season, which works out to about $1,500 to $3,000 per game. In a 82-game season, any one ref works an average of 73 games and receives a bonus for any additional games worked. They can also receive bonuses for working big NHL games like the Stanley Cup playoffs or even the Olympics. The pay for one round of playoffs might be as high as $18,000.
An NHL linesman salary range is also six figures but a bit lower, between $110,000 and $235,000 per year. While the linesman has a critical role in watching the blue line and breaking up fights, he is more of the referees’ assistant. The referees are ultimately in change—only the referees talk to the players and coaches, and only referees can stop and start play—and so they’re compensated accordingly.
For comparison of the pay scales, NHL players have a minimum salary of $650,000, with the highest-paid player making $16 million, making for a pretty large pay gap between the referees and the players, but certainly not the worst pay gap in professional sports.
The relatively high pay for NHL refs is partly due to a strike in 1993, where NHL officials demanded an increase in pay. At that time, their average salary ranged from $50,000 starting pay to up to $80,000 for veteran officials.
Are NHL Refs Full Time?
NHL referees are full-time employees of the National Hockey League. Since they are full time employees, they are salaried and receive benefits. They also receive travel stipends.
The NHL employs just 34 full-time refs during any one season, requiring two referees and two linesmen per game. With a regular season of 82 games, several games in any given week, and required travel across the U.S. and Canada, NHL referees certainly have their schedules full.
And the work doesn’t start and stop on the ice. While they’re not officiating an NHL game, they’re often reviewing footage, working out, and preparing for their next game. NHL refs have to work hard to stay physically fit and mentally sharp to keep up with the fast-paced players of today.
Who is the Highest-Paid NHL Referee?
NHL referee salaries is set by the sporting league, so they do not have negotiating power that players do. That means that their salaries are not astronomically high and cannot vary too much from referee to referee.
NHL refs receive larger annual salaries the longer they officiate, meaning that refs making the most are also the most senior. And as stated earlier, referees make more money than linesmen do, as they’re the ultimate authority on the ice. Refs who work extra games and playoff games will make more than those who do not.
Wes McCauley is one of the best NHL ref, has been officiating in the NHL full-time since 2005. He is a retired ice hockey player himself and is the son of John McCauley, a former NHL referee and former NHL director of officiating. McCauley has officiated seven of the last eight Stanley Cup Finals, so he’s definitely received at least a few hefty bonus checks during his tenure!
How do NHL Referee Salaries Compare to Other Major Sports?
NHL referees make a good amount of money, but there are other referees who make even more. NHL referees make just $275,000 per year on average, while MLB umpires make on average $300,000 per year, and NBA referees make on average $375,000 per year with potential to make up to $500,000.
However, NHL referees do fair better than their NFL counterparts, who only part-time employees of the NFL. The NFL referee makes an average annual salary of about $205,000. Many NFL referees even have day jobs to supplement their referee salary.