How Many Teams In The NHL Make The Playoffs?

The NHL playoffs are a thrilling postseason tournament that determines which team will be crowned Stanley Cup champions. But how many teams actually make the playoffs?

How the NHL playoffs work

The National Hockey League (NHL) playoffs are a best-of-seven elimination tournament among 16 teams that have qualified for the playoffs. Eight teams from each of the two conferences qualify for the playoffs. The conference quarterfinals are best-of-seven series played in a 2–2–1–1–1 format, meaning the team with home-ice advantage hosts games one, two, five, and seven (if necessary), while their opponent hosts games three, four, and six (if necessary). In the conference semifinals, four teams play in two separate best-of-seven series. The conference finals are two best-of-seven series to determine the conference champions. Finally, in the Stanley Cup Finals, the conference champions face off in a best-of-seven series.

How many teams make the playoffs

In the National Hockey League (NHL), the Stanley Cup Playoffs are 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, with the ultimate goal being to win the Stanley Cup. The playoffs follow a tournament format. The top three teams in each division and two wild-card teams in each conference (for a total of eight teams from each conference) qualify for the playoffs. The second round matches the division winners within each conference.

The two division winners in each conference are then given home-ice advantage for their best-of-seven series against their respective conference’s wild card team. With a win in this round, a team advances to its respective conference’s semifinals (also known as the Conference Finals). The Conference Finals is a best-of-seven series between the two surviving teams from each conference, with those winners advancing to face each other for the Stanley Cup championship.

2.1 In the past

Since the 2003-2004 NHL season, 16 teams have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The top 3 teams in each division make the playoffs, along with two wild card teams (the next two best teams in the conference).

In order to ensure that all of the playoff teams are as evenly matched as possible, there is a seeding system in place. The divisional winners are seeded 1-3 based on their regular season record, while the wild card teams are seeded 4-5.

The first two rounds of the playoffs are divisional matchups, meaning that 1 plays 4 and 2 plays 3 within each division. The winners of those series then move on to the Conference Finals.

The Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final are both best-of-seven series, meaning that the first team to win four games advances to the next round.

2.2 Currently

2.2 currently, with plans to expand to 4 teams per division (32 total) for the 2021-22 season.

Why the number of teams making the playoffs has changed

Over the years, the number of teams making the playoffs in the NHL has varied.

The NHL began with six teams in 1917-18, and increased to 10 teams by 1926-27. After going through various league mergers and expansions, the number of teams grew to 12 by 1967-68.

In 1974-75, the NHL expanded to 16 teams with the additions of the Washington Capitals and Kansas City Scouts. The league would remain at 16 teams until 1980-81, when it added four more teams with the merger of the World Hockey Association. As a result, from 1981-82 until 1993-94, 20 teams made the playoffs each season.

After another round of expansion in 1991 and 1992 (the Ottawa Senators and Tampa Bay Lightning joined the league), along with further realignment of divisions within conferences, 14 teams began qualifying for postseason play in 1994-95. That number would increase to 16 again for the 2013-14 season (when playoff formats were last adjusted), with division winners receiving automatic bids and two wild card spots available per conference.

So while there have been various changes over time in how many playoff spots are available each season, as of right now 16 out of 31 total NHL teams make it to the postseason each year.

How the playoff format has changed

From 1918 to 1967, the NHL playoffs consisted of four teams, the top two from each division. These were known as the “Original Six” teams: the Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs. In 1967, the league doubled in size to 12 teams with the addition of the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Los Angeles Kings and Minnesota North Stars. The playoff format was changed to allow eight teams to compete: the four division winners and four wild card teams with the best records. This system is still used today.

How the number of teams making the playoffs could change in the future

In order to make the playoffs, a team must finish in the top half of their conference’s standings. For years, this meant that 8 teams from each conference – 16 total – would make the playoffs. However, recently the NHL made a change to the playoff format, which now includes 16 teams total regardless of conference. This means that 14 teams from the Western Conference and 12 teams from the Eastern Conference will make the playoffs.

It’s possible that this number could change again in the future as the NHL expands or contracts. For example, if the NHL were to add two more teams, it’s likely that they would each be placed in a different conference. This would then mean that 16 teams from each conference would make the playoffs, for a total of 32 teams.

On the other hand, if the NHL were to lose two teams, it’s possible that they would once again revert back to having 8 teams from each conference make the playoffs. However, it’s also possible that they could keep 16 teams total making the playoffs, but have an unequal number of teams from each conference (14 from the West and 10 from the East, for example).

Ultimately, it will be up to the NHL to decide how many teams make the playoffs in any given year.

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