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NHL Referee Salaries Make the Demanding Job Well Worth It

Officiating a sports game is one of the most thankless jobs on the planet.

Do your work right? No one bats an eye. Make a mistake? You'll be hearing about it for days, or even weeks, depending on the severity of it.

Perhaps no sport has a tougher task for its officiating crews than hockey. Hockey referees have to be able to make split-second decisions that can tip the scales of an NHL game. Plus, they've got to be able to skate and must have the conditioning to do it the entire hockey game.

Additionally, hockey players and fans are notoriously rowdy, which can make the job of an NHL official quite stressful. Imagine trying to break up a fight involving Zdeno Chara. That surely can't be an easy task for anyone, better yet a man on ice skates.

So, considering the precision and consistency required to be an NHL ref, how much money does an NHL referee make?

How Much Do NHL Referees Make?

NHL referee Wes McCauley looks on during a 2022 NHL Playoff game.

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On average, NHL referees make between $4,000-5,000 per game, according to Scouting the Refs. Their salaries depend on their experience, but first-year referees can expect to take home a little more than $200,000 per year. A veteran referee of 15 years could expect to make more than $400,000 per season. The average salary falls somewhere between those numbers.

Meanwhile, linesmen make a little less than referees. A linesman new to the league makes $137,000 per season, while a veteran with 15 years of experience can make as much as $228,000, per Scouting the Refs.

For perspective, the average NHL player salary is $3.5 million. Even crazier is to look back at what referees used to make. Back in 1966, the highest-paid NHL referee was Frank Udvari, who made a whopping $22,600.

NHL Referees Earn a Nice Bonus in Playoff Games

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NHL referees are paid a little differently when the postseason rolls around.

Referees who work the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Stanley Cup Finals earn $27,000 per round worked, and they aren't permitted to work more than seven games in a round. NHL linesmen will make $17,250 per round, which isn't a bad check at all for a front-row seat to hockey's premier games.

The NHL in total has 35 full-time NHL referees and 35 full-time linesmen. However, only 20 referees and 20 linesmen get the honor of working the playoffs. These refs are chosen based on evaluation of their performance during the regular season, according to the NHL.

Comparing the National Hockey League to other sports leagues, officials in the NHL make more money than NFL referees in terms of average annual salary, but less than officials in the NBA and MLB umpires.

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