Season structure of the NHL

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The structure of the National Hockey League (NHL) season is divided into the regular season and the Stanley Cup playoffs. In the regular season, which generally runs from early October through early April, teams play 82 games which determine their standings. The three top-seeded teams in each division and two wild card teams per conference enter the playoff elimination tournament to determine the Stanley Cup champion.

Regular season[edit]

Each team in the NHL plays 82 regular season games, 41 games at home and 41 on the road. In all, 1,230 games are scheduled (448 inter-conference games).

In the 2013–2014 season, the NHL regular season formula was adjusted to account for the new conference alignments. Each team plays either four or five games against the other teams in its division (a total of 29 games in the Western Conference, 30 games in the Eastern Conference) as well as playing all non-divisional teams in their own conference three times (21 games in the west, 24 games in the east). The remaining games of the season are inter-conference play (32 in the west, 28 in the east), allowing every team in the league to play every other team twice. One Western Conference exception is that one team from each division plays one less game inside Division and one more game inside Conference but outside their Division. For the 2013-14 season these teams are the Colorado Avalanche and the San Jose Sharks. The schedule is structured so that every NHL team plays in every arena at least once every year.

The season is typically divided approximately in half by the NHL All-Star Game and its accompanying festivities, during which no regular season games take place. Every four years, in lieu of an All-Star break, there is a break for the Winter Olympic Games.

Two points are awarded for a win (including in overtime or shootout), one point for a loss in overtime or shootout, and no points for a loss in regulation time. If, however, a team pulls their goaltender for an extra attacker during overtime and gives up an empty net goal, the point normally awarded for losing in overtime is forfeited.[1] Pulling a goaltender in overtime was occasionally attempted in certain situations prior to the 2004–05 NHL lockout near the end of a season if earning a single point in overtime would have been worthless for playoff qualification purposes, but with the introduction of the shootout it has not been attempted since.

Western ConferenceEastern Conference
Pacific DivisionCentral DivisionAtlantic DivisionMetropolitan Division
Anaheim DucksChicago BlackhawksBoston BruinsCarolina Hurricanes
Calgary FlamesColorado AvalancheBuffalo SabresColumbus Blue Jackets
Edmonton OilersDallas StarsDetroit Red WingsNew Jersey Devils
Los Angeles KingsMinnesota WildFlorida PanthersNew York Islanders
Phoenix CoyotesNashville PredatorsMontreal CanadiensNew York Rangers
San Jose SharksSt. Louis BluesOttawa SenatorsPhiladelphia Flyers
Vancouver CanucksWinnipeg JetsTampa Bay LightningPittsburgh Penguins
Toronto Maple LeafsWashington Capitals
Western Conference (majority of teams every year)
DivisionScheduleTotal Games
Within Conference (Divisional)5 games × 5 opponents + 4 games x 1 opponent29
Within Conference (Non-divisional)3 games × 7 opponents21
Inter-conference2 games × 16 opponents32
Western Conference (one team in each division every year)
DivisionScheduleTotal Games
Within Conference (Divisional)5 games × 4 opponents + 4 games x 2 opponents28
Within Conference (Non-divisional)3 games × 6 opponents + 4 games x 1 opponent22
Inter-conference2 games × 16 opponents32
Eastern Conference
DivisionScheduleTotal Games
Within Conference (Divisional)5 games × 2 opponents + 4 games x 5 opponents30
Within Conference (Non-divisional)3 games × 8 opponents24
Inter-conference2 games × 14 opponents28

Stanley Cup playoffs[edit]

At the end of the regular season, 16 teams qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, an elimination tournament consisting of three rounds of best-of-seven series to determine which team from each conference will advance to the final round, dubbed the Stanley Cup Final. The top three teams in each division earn automatic berths (6 teams per conference) and the next two teams in the conference earn wild-card spots. The Divisional Playoffs pit the top ranked team in the conference against the lower ranked wild-card and the other division winner against the higher ranked wild-card (1 vs 8, 2 vs 7). The second and third place teams in each division play each other (3 vs 6, 4 vs 5; 3 vs 5, 4 vs 6; or 3 vs 4, 5 vs 6). The first round winners will meet in the second round or Division Championship. The Western Conference (Pacific vs. Central) and Eastern Conference (Atlantic vs. Metropolitan) Finals will determine who faces off in the Stanley Cup Finals.[2]

Any ties in the standings are broken using the following protocols:

  1. The fewer number of games played (only used during the season, as all teams will have played 82 games once the season is over).
  2. The greater number of games won. Starting in the 2010-11 NHL season, shootout wins are not included in the tie-breaking procedure.
  3. The greater number of points earned in games between the tied clubs.
  4. The greater differential between goals for and against during the entire regular season.

For the first three rounds, the higher-seeded team has home-ice advantage (regardless of point record). In the Stanley Cup Final, it goes to the team with the better regular season record. The team with home-ice advantage hosts Games 1, 2, 5 and 7, while the opponent hosts Games 3, 4 and 6 (Games 5–7 are played "if necessary").

See also[edit]


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