Season structure

The National Hockey League season is divided into an exhibition season (September), a regular season (from the first week in October through early to mid April) and a postseason (the Stanley Cup playoffs). During the exhibition season, teams may play other teams from the NHL. They also often compete against European clubs, such as clubs from the Russian KHL. During the regular season, clubs play each other in a predefined schedule. The Stanley Cup playoffs, which go from April to the beginning of June, is an elimination tournament where two teams play against each other to win a best-of-seven series in order to advance to the next round. The final remaining team is crowned the Stanley Cup champion. Beginning in 2007, the NHL regular season has begun in Europe while teams not involved complete their pre-season exhibition schedule. In the regular season, with the current 30-team NHL geographically split up into two 15-team conferences, and each conference having three divisions of five teams apiece, each team plays 82 games; 41 games at home and 41 on the road. Each team plays 24 games in its own geographic division—six against each one of their four other divisional opponents—and 40 games against the ten remaining non-divisional intra-conference opponents—four games against every team in the other two divisions of its conference. Each team plays every team in the other conference at least once—one game each against 12 teams and two games against the remaining three teams. For three seasons between 2005 and 2008, teams played 32 games within their division—eight games against each team in the division—and 10 inter-conference games—one game against each team in two of the three divisions in the opposite conference.[79] The two divisions faced from the opposite conference were rotated every year, much like interleague play in Major League Baseball. As with the current system, each team played four games against the other ten teams in its conference outside of its division. The NHL's regular seaso standings are based on a point system instead of winning percentages. Points are awarded for each game, where two points are awarded for a win, one point for losing in overtime or a shootout, and zero points for a loss in regulation. At the end of the regular season, the team that finishes with the most points in each division is crowned the division champion. The league's overall leader is awarded the Presidents' Trophy. The three division champions along with the five other teams in each conference with the next highest number of points, for a total of eight teams in each conference, qualify for the playoffs. The division winners are seeded one through three (even if a non-division winner has a higher point total), and the next five teams with the best records in the conference are seeded four through eight.[80] The Stanley Cup playoffs is an elimination tournament, where the teams are grouped in pairs to play best-of-seven series, the winners moving on to the next round. The first round of the playoffs, or conference quarter-finals, consists of the first seed playing the eighth seed, the second playing the seventh, third playing the sixth, and the fourth playing the fifth.[80] In the second round, or conference semi-finals, the NHL re-seeds the teams, with the top remaining conference seed playing against the lowest remaining seed, and the other two remaining conference teams pairing off. In the third round, the conference finals, the two remaining teams in each conference play each other, with the conference champions proceeding to the Stanley Cup Finals. In each round the higher-ranked team is awarded home-ice advantage. Four of the seven games are played at this team's home venue—the first and second, and, when necessary, the fifth and seventh games—with the other games played at the lower-ranked team's home venue. In the Stanley Cup Finals, the team with the most points during the regular season is given home-ice advantage, regardless of where each team ranks in their own conference.