When Does Hockey Season Start? Scheduling Process of NHL

Hockey is such a sport that if you enjoy the game once, you can’t resist enjoying this exhilarating sport as both the audience and player. I am very passionate about sports, and when it was about such a wild game, I couldn’t resist knowing each detail of structuring hockey seasons. Understanding the hockey schedule sometimes seems complicated because of having so many games in a season. I also struggled to educate myself on hockey schedules as I didn’t know much about the championship schedule. I researched when the hockey season starts and how the season structures are formed.

When Does Hockey Season Start

It seems you also are an enthusiast regarding sports, as this quench led you to this article. So, I suggest you stick with this guide as I have gathered all the necessary information you need to know to understand hockey season schedules.

Structuring Schedules for hockey

National Hockey League, popularly known as NHL, is responsible for structuring and fixing hockey schedules. Generally, the NHL manages all the critical decisions and declarations for the sport; of hockey. The regular hockey season annually runs from early October to early April.

Mainly, NHL has divided the hockey season structure into three parts; Pre-season, Regular season, and the Stanley Cup playoffs. Pre-seasons are held on the last two weeks of September, two to three weeks before the regular season. After completing the pre-season, teams must participate in the regular season to play for the Stanley Cup. In late April, the Stanley Cup playoffs finally took place, with the most matches won by teams.


I already mentioned that pre-season for hockey starts two weeks before the regular season, in the last two weeks of September. It is mainly the preparation period for teams to prepare for the upcoming matches. Each team under NHL has to play roughly six to seven exhibition matches so that coaches can evaluate their skills, teamwork, new players, coordination between players, and position spots. Meanwhile, senior players can practice more for competitive play. I am explaining to those who don’t know what an exhibition match is. An exhibition match is a game where no prizes are included, and the game is being played to evaluate the player’s skill and strategies.

In short, the pre-season is for preparing players and building strategies for future matches.

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Regular Season

If you want to play hockey professionally and build your career in this aspect, you must prepare to sign into one of the teams in the NHL. There are thirty-one teams in the National Hockey League, and these teams are allowed to take part in the regular seasons. The regular season is when teams take part in the competition to secure their place in Stanley Cup.

NHL classified these teams into the Eastern Conference and the Western Conference. Then, each of both meetings is again divided into two divisions. Pacific Division and Central Division are under the Western Conference, and the Eastern conference consists of Atlantic Division and Metropolitan Division. There are eight teams per division, except Central Division has seven teams.

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
Vegas Golden Knights Toronto Maple Leafs Washington Capitals

The table above shows the team structure of the National Hockey League. Each team has to play 82 matches in the regular season; 41 games are played at home, and other tournaments on away. That means 1271 games are played, and 480 matches are organized in the inter-course term.

Each team from a division has to play four or five matches in opposition to its division teams. This is not the least. They also have to play games thrice against other non-divisional teams of their conference. In easy words, each pacific division team has to compete against the Central division thrice teams. The same goes for the eastern conference also. That means teams of the western conference will play against the eastern conference. Then, teams have to survive inter-conference games. The remaining league group will get the chance to compete against teams from another meeting twice. NHL structured the season so each team can play in every arena at least once per regular season; if you have difficulties understanding the schedules, there is no need to worry as I am attaching simple tables for your convenience.

Eastern Conference

Division Schedule Total Games
Within division 4 games × 7 opponents 28 games
Within the conference, non-divisional 3 games × 8 opponents 24 games
Inter-conference 2 games × 15 opponents 30 games

Western Conference (Pacific Division)

Division Schedule Total Games
Within division 4 games × 6 opponents + 5 games × 1 opponent 29 games
Within the conference, non-divisional 3 games × 7 opponents 21 games
Inter-conference 2 games × 16 opponents 32 games

Western Conference (Central Division)

Division Schedule Total Games
Within division 4 games × 4 opponents + 5 games × 2 opponents 26 games
Within the conference, non-divisional 3 games × 8 opponents 24 games
Inter-conference 2 games × 16 opponents 32 games

Stanley Cup

Stanley Cup is North America’s oldest professional sports trophy series, established over two decades of emerging NHL. It is an elimination series tournament of four rounds to determine the best of seven series and find the Stanley Cup winner. Teams of NHL prepare themselves and compete in so many games to get selected for this tournament.

According to the current playoff series format, teams in the first, second, and third positions based on each division’s regular seasons automatically qualify for the playoffs. Eight teams from each conference and 16 units of NHL get selected to participate in this series depending on the regular season’s points. Two additional teams from each conference, regardless of divisions having the highest point, then remaining teams get access to the playoffs. These four teams earn a wild card spot.

In the first round, the lowest scorer wild card team has to play against the division winner with the best record, and on the other hand, another wild card has to play against another division winner. Winners of the first round get to promote to the second round. The other two games also follow the same reseeding format as second and third place winners of the same division play. The winner of the series advances to the conference finals, and finally, the winners of the conference finals advance to the Stanley Cup finals.

Is hockey season long?

You may get a clear concept of the hockey schedule and structure. While the NHL structures and fixes the hockey schedule, the association must consider various facts. The number of games in a season decides how long the season will be. Before scheduling the season’s dates, NHL finalizes each conference’s number of matches and teams.

Each team must play around 82 matches at home and onboard in a season. Considering the number, the total sum of the games is above 2000. Imagine playing this number of games. We are arranging and scheduling dates for these vast numbers of games is not easy. Yet, NHL is fulfilling its duties annually with responsibility. After completing the regular season, they have also to play the four rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Finally, we got our annual championship of hockey. So, a hockey season takes a lot of time to complete.

Usually, the hockey season starts in early October and finishes in early April. About six to seven months, we needed to complete a regular season. But if we add pre-season games and Stanley Cup playoffs with this duration, the season’s length will increase to one more month. Also, each team has holidays and mandatory bye weeks in-between seasons. These drag the duration of the season. On average, it takes about seven to eight months to complete the annual hockey season.

Ice hockey, famously known as hockey, is undoubtedly a popular game in North America and Canada. It is also really famous for its long period of schedule. Hopefully, I could make you understand the schedule and process of structuring hockey seasons through this article. Please ask in the comment section below if you have any questions regarding this topic or sports.

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