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Icing On The Paycheck: How Much Do NHL Refs Make?

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to officiate a game in the National Hockey League? With the game’s unique characteristics and distinct culture, it’s among the most challenging roles in sports. But there’s another aspect that often piques people’s interest: how much do NHL refs make?

In this article, we’ll do a deep dive into the salaries of officials in hockey’s top tier competition, uncovering what influences their earnings and who the highest paid NHL referee is. So, lace up your blades and get ready to skate into the world of arbitration on ice.

The Compensation System

Understanding the compensation system of hockey’s elite league provides insights into how officials earn their keep.

  1. Referees vs. Linesmen: To begin, it’s important to distinguish between two different kinds of officiating: while referees are the overall arbiters of matches, linesmen focus on very specific areas, such as offsides and icing situations. As a result, an NHL linesman salary is significantly lower than a referee’s.
  1. Experience and Tenure: NHL officials’ salaries are influenced by their years of experience and tenure in the league. As they accumulate more games and seasons under their belts, their salaries increase.
  1. Performance-Based Bonuses: Performance plays a significant role in income. Those who consistently deliver strong, accurate results are more likely to receive bonuses and higher-paying assignments.
  1. Prestigious Assignments: Being selected for high-profile games, such as Stanley Cup Finals, All-Star Games and Winter Classics, means additional compensation.
  1. Individual Contracts: Some may have individual contracts that offer unique terms and bonuses, allowing them to earn even more.

The Pay Scale: How Much Do NHL Officials Make?

To unravel the details of the salaries of NHL officials, we need to dig into the pay structure that the league, in agreement with the National Hockey League Officials’ Association (NHLOA), implements. 

1. The Regular Season Salary

The approximate average yearly salary for NHL officials is between 165,000 USD – 360,000 USD, depending on tenure. Rookies kick off their careers at the bottom of the scale, that is at around 200,000 USD for referees and around 137,000 USD for linesmen and as the years roll on, these figures see a steady rise.

According to Scouting The Refs, a 15-year veteran referee would be making around 430,000 USD for the current season, while a NHL linesman salary with the same experience would be approximately 228,000 USD.

2. Playoff Earnings

Officials hit another financial milestone when the playoffs roll around. Playoff assignments are not only prestigious but also come with substantial financial incentives. Referees and linesmen do not get paid a salary during the playoffs, but rather receive bonuses. For refs, this hovers around 27,000 USD per round, which is a flat fee regardless of the number of games per round. An NHL linesman salary in the same role would be 17,250 USD per round.

The Highest Paid NHL Referee

If you’re curious about who the highest-paid NHL referee is, a name that gets thrown around a lot is Frank Udvari. That being said, Udvari was active in the 50s and 60s and while his salary converted to today’s money would be quite substantial at around 200,000 USD, it is nowhere near the peak of today’s NHL ref salary range.  

Who the top salary recipient in today’s league is remains a mystery, as these kinds of numbers are not made public. So until Alex Ovechkin of referees steps into the limelight, we will continue to recognize Hall of Famer Frank Udvary as the historic top earner.

The Future of NHL Officiating

What’s in store for NHL referees in the future? Let’s take a look at potential changes and opportunities for growth in the officiating world.

  • Technology: Hockey’s top competition continually explores the use of technology to assist referees in making accurate calls. This could lead to changes in the way games are officiated and potentially affect salaries.
  • Expansion: As the National Hockey League expands, there may be more opportunities for referees and linesmen. New teams mean more games, creating chances for officials to boost their earnings.

Guiding The Game

A good official is said to be the one that is unnoticed, guiding the game inconspicuously, allowing the game to flow, while making sure that it does not get out of hand. Another kind of guide that hockey fans may be interested in is an article about online sports betting in Canada by MightyTips. Without giving too much away, it appears that Canucks who enjoy a bit of wagering on the national pastime are in for an exciting ride.


The world of NHL officiating is a dynamic one, where skilled referees and linesmen play a critical role in the integrity of the game. An NHL ref salary is a reflection of experience, performance, and the specific challenges these specialists face. It’s a job that demands dedication and a love for the sport.

As we conclude this journey behind the whistle, it’s important to remember that officiating is essential to the game’s transparency and fairness. The next time you watch a hockey game, take a moment to appreciate the professionals that make up the Zebra collective and whose tireless efforts ensure that the game is played with integrity. 

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