How Much Do NHL Referees Make

Picture of an NHL Referee

As a professional sports league, the National Hockey League (NHL) is known for its high player salaries and multimillion-dollar franchises. But how much do the referees earn in this big dollar sport? How much do referees earn per game? How many games do they referee in every season? What’s the yearly salary for NHL linesmen? Do linesmen and referees earn the same amount of money? This article will provide information about the salaries of referees and linesmen officiating in the NHL and other lower leagues like the AHL and CHL. 

Employment as a hockey referee is a thankless job, but fortunately for the NHL referees, they are well paid for their duties. Referees are responsible for conducting and policing the hockey game where they call penalties, goals, and whistle the play for stoppages. They also drop the puck for face-offs that start every period, following a goal, or after any play stoppage. The referees wear a black and white striped sweater and an orange armband around the bicep. Linesmen are other ice hockey officials, but their duties differ from the referee. They are responsible for conducting and policing plays involving the blue lines and red lines, such as icing and offsides. Linesmen even report penalties to the referees in most leagues. But the final decision will be always taken by the head referee, except for offsides. Linesmen can drop the puck after offside and icing play. The linesmen wear black and white striped sweaters without orange armbands. All of these duties of referees and linesmen occur at a very high speed, so refereeing in NHL is a difficult task. They may be ridiculed by both teams and the fans, so life as a referee isn’t so easy but at least the pay is good!

1. How Much Do NHL Referees Make?

Refereeing in the NHL is a highly competitive and high-pressure job. One controversial call can scar a referee for the rest of his career. Away from the screaming coaches, shouting fans, argumentative players, NHL referees need to keep their cool while making decisions on the ice in the heat of the game. They have to maintain a tight travel schedule that keeps them moving from one town to another town, detached from their families. The life of an NHL referee is not as glamorous as that of an NHL player, but the compensation and the passion for the game of hockey makes it completely worth it!

Highest Paid Referee

Back in 1966, NHL referee Frank Udvari was the highest-paid NHL official, earning a hefty $22,600 annually. Referee Vern Buffey earned approximately $13,000 for the 1968 season when the standard official fees were $220 for a regular-season game and $500 for a playoff game. AHL referees at that time earned $100 for a regular-season game and $125 for a playoff game. Now there are five NHL referees earning $300,000 each. 

Currently, Brad Meir and Tom Chmielewski are the highest-paid NHL referees earning $2,000 per game and $400,000 yearly.

Average NHL Referee Salary

The salary of an NHL referee ranges from $165,000 to $400,000 per year, depending on the level of experience. The salary per game works out at around $1,500 to $3,000. Further, the referees get paid a handsome bonus of $4,000-5,000 for refereeing in a playoff match.  As per the agreement between the National Hockey League and National Hockey League Officials’ Association, a referee needs to work 73 games in a regular season. If a referee has to work for additional games, he will get an additional 1.5% of his salary for every game. 

NHL referees make the most money in San Francisco, where the total compensation is 51% greater than the U.S. average. While it’s not on the same level as the NHL players are earning, but it’s much higher than it was before 1993 when they went on strike to raise their salaries.

Highest Paid NHL Linesman

Currently, Steve Barton, John Grandt, Lonnie Cameron, and Don Henderson are the highest-paid  NHL linesmen earning $800 per game.

Average NHL Linesman Salary

NHL linesmen stand at the blue line, and they are responsible for making calls related to the blue and centerlines, such as icing and offside. They also take the responsibility to break up fights between the players during an NHL game along with dropping the puck after stoppages. The annual salary is slightly lower than an NHL referee but sits at an average of $110,000 to $235,000.

What do Referees and Lineman Make in Playoffs

NHL players don’t earn their regular salaries during the playoff games. They actually receive a bonus for each round that is divided among the teammates. Similarly, NHL officials are paid a bonus for every round of the playoffs as per the selection. NHL referees earn $18,000 per round, while linesmen earn $12,000 per round as a bonus for officiating playoff games. Typically, the most veteran and best-rated NHL officials are selected to serve in the playoffs. Therefore, playoff games provide the NHL officials more money than the initial round matches. However, rookie referees are typically not selected for the playoff games. Rookie referees need at least 2-3 years experience to receive a professional contract to be selected for playoff games.

Picture of professional hockey referee

How Long Does it Take to Become an NHL Referee?

Refereeing in an NHL game is difficult, and it requires years of hard work and dedication to climb to the professional level. Most NHL referees have played ice hockey in the lower echelon of the sport, making a switch to refereeing in their free time or pursuing a full-time career as a referee to gain more experience. Professional NHL referees have the utmost experience by passing through all the levels that takes at least 3-4 years to complete.

Professional NHL referees also participate in intense training camps to improve their fitness level in order to keep up with the rigorous speed of ice hockey. After completing the training program by the U.S. Centre of Safe Sport, an individual will receive a Hockey Referee Certification that allows the individual to become an NHL official. It is shockingly hard to make the cut and become an NHL referee. An individual needs to have exceptional skating skills to become an NHL referee or linesman, and that is why referees are often recruited out of the junior or college hockey ranks.

What is the Average AHL Referee Salary?

The American Hockey League (AHL) is a professional ice hockey league consisting of 30 teams, 26 teams from the United States, and the remaining 4 teams from Canada. Actually, AHL is a combination of two original hockey leagues: The Canadian American Hockey League started in 1926, and the International Hockey League started in 1929. The AHL consist of pro-hockey players that are affiliates to NHL teams, so the skill level is extremely high as many players will end up in the NHL. Minor league officials who are under the NHL contracts but can work the bulk of their games in AHL earn significantly less. Referees in AHL earn from $75,000 to $100,000 per year while the linesman in AHL earn from $50,000 to $60,000 per year. AHL provides great employment conditions in terms of attractive remuneration packages, pension plans, salary sacrifice options, and an opportunity for training and career advancement. Just like an NHL player, the goal of any AHL referee is to advance to the NHL level!

Average CHL (WHL, OHL, QMJHL) Referee Salary

There is no clear information about the salary of an OHL referee, but in terms of the lower league, a CHL referee can earn $60k Canadian working 9 months a year and only a couple hours a day. However, the referees officiating in the higher hockey leagues like NHL are having lots of perks in their salary and other benefits like free food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

What do Amateur Referees Make?

As you might expect, amateur referees earn much less than professional NHL referees. Referees who officiate youth and other recreational hockey leagues get paid between $30 and $75 per game, which usually lasts over a 60-minute ice time.  Besides, minor league games rarely have overtime. So, these referees can make their job more worthwhile by participating in multiple games on the same day, however. Amateur hockey typically only employs one referee along with one linesman per game, making an amateur referee’s job more difficult. Professional hockey is obviously a faster game, and this is the reason why they employ two referees and two linesmen per game. At the NHL level, the officials are also responsible for intervening in more violent affairs on the ice.

Do NHL Referees Get a Pension?

Yes, the National Hockey League Officials Association (NHLOA) provides pension benefits for the NHL referees and other officials. As per the agreement, NHL will contribute an amount equal to 13.5% of its salary payroll to the National Hockey League Officials’ Pension Plan. Contributions shall be allocated to every individual official on a similar basis. The Officials’ Pension Plan is monitored by a joint administration committee established in accordance with applicable US and Canadian law. At least half of the members should be appointed and represent the NHL. The remaining half of the members should be the representative of members of the plan and appointed by the NHLOA. However, the pension plan is currently applicable for the NHL officials who work at least 10 games in a season.

Who is the Oldest Referee?

Brad Watson, 56, is the second of the three full-time NHL referees living in Colorado, and currently, he is the oldest NHL referee and approaching 1,300 career games. On 14th January 2014, he was honored by the Avalanche at Pepsi Center before refereeing in his 1000th game. Watson was actually a late-bloomer and joined the NHL at 36 years of age in 1999 from AHL. Once he said that he was expecting to work till 45 years of age, but the two-man system, which was introduced in NHL in the 2000-2001 season, helped him to prolong his career as an NHL referee. Like all other NHL officials, Watson played youth hockey and aspired to take it as far as he could. Apart from Brad Watson, Dave Jackson is another experienced and most tenured active NHL referee. Jackson is approaching 1,500 career games, and he had worked in Stanley Cup Finals and 15 conference finals plus several Olympics.

How Many NHL Referees and Lineman are there?

NHL employs four officials in each game – two referees and two linesmen. Referees are identified by the orange or red armband and responsible for the general supervision of the game, assess penalties, conduct face-offs at the beginning of each period, and after a goal is scored. When play is stopped due to another reason, linesmen are responsible for the face-offs and violations involving the center line and blue lines like icing and offside infraction. All the referees and linesmen are members of the National Hockey league Officials Association (NHLOA), a labor union established in 1969 to deal with the working condition of hockey officials and act as their collective bargaining representative. Currently, NHL Officials Association (NHLOA) consists of 34 full-time referees and 34 full-time linesmen. Additionally, they have included 10 minor league referees and 5 minor league linesmen who split their time between the NHL and the AHL. All the officials of NHLOA are under the contract to the NHL and working in the NHL and designated minor leagues.


Life as a referee comes with huge stresses and difficulties related to constant travel and being away from your family. But in terms of high-level hockey leagues like the NHL, a job as a full-time referee is a very well-paying occupation. Full-time referees can easily earn at least $100,000 on the low end, which is a hefty sum considering they only work a dozen or so hours per week for two-thirds of the year. Certainly, it’s a thankless job, but that nice pay-cheque easily compensates the downsides of being an NHL on-ice official.

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