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Season structure of the NHL

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Title: Season structure of the NHL  
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Subject: Calgary Flames, National Hockey League seasons, List of Calgary Flames seasons, List of Pittsburgh Penguins seasons, Dave Hodge
Collection: National Hockey League Seasons
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Season structure of the NHL

The season structure of the National Hockey League (NHL) 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 1
  • Stanley Cup playoffs 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5

Regular season

Since the 1995-96 season, each team in the NHL plays 82 regular season games, 41 each of home and road. In all, 1,230 games are scheduled (448 inter-conference games).

Since 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. Teams rotate every season. 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 Conference Eastern Conference
Pacific Division Central Division Atlantic Division Metropolitan Division
Anaheim Ducks Chicago Blackhawks Boston Bruins Carolina Hurricanes
Arizona Coyotes Colorado Avalanche Buffalo Sabres Columbus Blue Jackets
Calgary Flames Dallas Stars Detroit Red Wings New Jersey Devils
Edmonton Oilers Minnesota Wild Florida Panthers New York Islanders
Los Angeles Kings Nashville Predators Montreal Canadiens New York Rangers
San Jose Sharks St. Louis Blues Ottawa Senators Philadelphia Flyers
Vancouver Canucks Winnipeg Jets Tampa Bay Lightning Pittsburgh Penguins
Toronto Maple Leafs Washington Capitals
Western Conference (majority of teams every year)
Division Schedule Total Games
Within Conference (Divisional) 5 games × 5 opponents + 4 games x 1 opponent 29
Within Conference (Non-divisional) 3 games × 7 opponents 21
Inter-conference 2 games × 16 opponents 32
Western Conference (one team in each division every year)
Division Schedule Total Games
Within Conference (Divisional) 5 games × 4 opponents + 4 games x 2 opponents 28
Within Conference (Non-divisional) 3 games × 6 opponents + 4 games x 1 opponent 22
Inter-conference 2 games × 16 opponents 32
Eastern Conference
Division Schedule Total Games
Within Conference (Divisional) 5 games × 2 opponents + 4 games x 5 opponents 30
Within Conference (Non-divisional) 3 games × 8 opponents 24
Inter-conference 2 games × 14 opponents 28

Stanley Cup playoffs

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 Conference Quarterfinals 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. The second and third place teams in each division play each other. The conference quarterfinal winners will meet in the conference semifinals. 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. If two clubs are tied, and have not played an equal number of home games against each other, the points earned in the first game played in the city that had the extra game are not included.
  5. If more than two clubs are tied, the higher percentage of available points earned in games among those clubs, and not including any "odd" games, are used to determine the standing.
  6. The greater differential between goals for and goals against during the entire regular season.
  7. For the first two rounds, the higher-seeded team has home-ice advantage (regardless of point record). For all others, 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


    • McCarthy, Dave, ed. (2008). The National Hockey League Official Guide & Record Book/2009. Dan Diamond Associates.  
    1. ^ "NHL Official Rules: Rule 84 - Overtime". 
    2. ^ "NHL realignment includes four divisions, wild card teams". Retrieved 2013-07-03. 

    External links

    • NHL – Stanley Cup Playoff Formats
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