They keep control of the game and can make or break it with their calls, but NHL referees still earn significantly less than the average NHL player.
So exactly how much do NHL refs make?
Full-time NHL refs can pull in anywhere from $165,000 to $400,000 USD annually, depending on their seniority.
The average NHL player’s salary is $3.2 million USD as of the start of the 2022 – 2023 season, so NHL referees and linesmen earn much less than this.
More Experience Means More Money
For each professional hockey game, there are two referees and two linesmen at each game. You can spot the ref by their orange armbands on the side of their uniform. The NHL employs 35 referees and 35 linesmen, meaning both sets of officials often travel to keep up with the ongoing game schedule.
Kevin Pollock is currently one of the longest-tenured refs in the NHL, with over 1,500 games officiated.
Even with over 20 years of experience, he isn’t quite ready for retirement but told NHL.com it isn’t always easy doing his job. “If you don’t have that passion and love for the game, I don’t know if you’d be able to maybe work even as long as I have, just being away and missing everything at home.”
Pollock’s estimated salary is around $500,000. His vast experience means his pay is way above the average. However, that’s typical of those that have been around the league for a while.
Linesmen are responsible for any infractions concerning offside or icing. They will also communicate with the referee regarding their perspective of incidents occurring during the game.
Full-time linesmen make between $135,000 to $235,000 per year, depending on experience.
The officials’ set salaries listed above don’t include playoff games. Instead, the NHL incorporates bonuses for those referees and linesmen that officiate these big time games.
In the 2022 postseason, no ref worked more than five games in a single series. That averages their bonus to around $5,400 per game.
Consider this: Unlike NHL players that get subbed every few minutes, an NHL referee and his linesmen partners need to skate through the whole game. That leads me to one of the most important skills for any official.
With three 20-minute periods, referees need to be in tip-top shape to keep up with each play and make the appropriate calls.
In addition, they need to be able to skate while accelerating and decelerating at a moment’s notice.
As noted above, each game includes two referees and two linesmen at each NHL game. The referee makes the final call, but they will need to communicate with the other linesmen regarding their interpretation of events.
In addition, because the NHL employs video review for some calls, referees will need to communicate with those officials in the situation room regarding the questioned play. This requires a cool head, analytical skills, and strong communication know-how.
In addition to making calls, NHL referees have other responsibilities including:
- Dealing with players and coaches questioning calls and explaining the reasoning behind them.
- If you’ve watched any NHL game, you know the referees and linesmen often need to get involved in conflicts between players. While this is part of the job description, it can sometimes go wrong. Recently, during a fight between players, a linesman got hit in the face. Lucky for him, he wasn’t injured and restored peace between the two sides.
- At the beginning of every period and after a goal is scored, officials will need to conduct a face-off. Referees ensure both sides have equal opportunity to the puck while monitoring that neither player crosses the line too early.
Working as an NHL referee or linesman is a thankless job. Many times coaches, players, and fans will ridicule or question every call made. Even still, individuals are willing to step up and take on this difficult job.
The average salary per year probably makes the boos and taunts easier to take. Most NHL referees earn between $165,000 to $400,000, depending on their experience. As for linemen, they can pull in anywhere from $135,000 to $235,000 annually.
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