Skip to content

Video: Explaining the new NHL playoff format

Mar 24, 2014, 4:52 PM EDT


The top three teams in each division will make up the first 12 teams in the playoffs. The remaining four spots will be filled by the next two highest-placed finishers in each conference, based on regular-season points and regardless of division. It is possible for one division to send five teams to the postseason while the other sends just three.

Seeding of the wild-card teams within each divisional playoff will be determined on the basis of regular-season points. The division winner with the most points in the conference will be matched against the wild-card team with the fewest points; the division winner with the second-most points in the conference will play the wild-card team with the second-fewest points.

The teams finishing second and third in each division will play in the first round of the playoffs. There is no reseeding as the tournament moves to the second round and winners of that series advance to the conference championship series and the right to play is the Stanley Cup Final.

Where some people get confused is what happens in the second round. Again, there is no reseeding. Once the four brackets are set, they’re set for the first two rounds.

For example, let’s say St. Louis hangs on to first in the Central and earns the first seed in the West, and let’s say Phoenix is the second wild-card team. The Blues and Coyotes would play each other in the first round.

At the same time, let’s say Chicago hangs on to second in the Central and Colorado finishes third. The Blackhawks and Avalanche would play each other in the first round.

The winners of those two series would play each other in the second round, no matter what happened in the other Western Conference bracket.

So yes, there could be a second round of Blues-Hawks and, say, Kings-Wild, even if the Blues and Hawks each finish with more points than the Kings and Wild.

Would that be fair? You may not think so. But it would be similar to what used to happen back in the ’80s when the Oilers and Flames of the old Smythe Division would square off (or at least be on a collision course to square off, barring a first-round upset) in the second round, even when both had more points than any team that came out of the Norris Division.

The NHL is hoping that this system will create the kind of fierce rivalries that the 80’s produced, with division rivals seeing each other in the playoffs over and over.

  1. rushledger - Mar 24, 2014 at 5:02 PM

    I don’t even like the usage of the word wildcard. Lets hope this playoff format dies ASAP, go back to the old way with the top two division leaders getting one and two and 3-8 going solely based off points, end of story. This system is trash.

    • imleftcoast - Mar 24, 2014 at 6:16 PM

      Under last year’s system, the matchups would be more interesting (with Detroit in the West), but the first round is the same whether it is 3-8. I’m not thrilled with the second round matchups – rather re-seed by points.

    • greatmiamisportsmind - Mar 24, 2014 at 7:48 PM

      I’m in favor of getting arid of the wild card spots as well. If the NHL wants to rekindle rivalries like in the 80s, then they need to go back to that format. 1 vs 4 and 2 vs 3 in each division. Winners square off in the conference finals with those winners meeting for the Cup.

  2. sjsharks66 - Mar 24, 2014 at 5:04 PM

    “The NHL is hoping that this system will create the kind of fierce rivalries that the 80′s produced” but be sure to keep your helmet on when you start a fight!

  3. barkar942 - Mar 24, 2014 at 5:14 PM

    OK. I am still confused. But who cares? It is playoff hockey, and it will be INTENSE!

  4. chiadam - Mar 24, 2014 at 5:25 PM

    Got it!

    Wait…explain the part about the things again.

  5. elemeno89 - Mar 24, 2014 at 5:57 PM

    The questions that isn’t being explained to me thoroughly is when one division sends five teams to the playoffs. Given that scenario one wild card would have to play in the bracket intended for the other division. I’m so confused…

    • joey4id - Mar 24, 2014 at 6:24 PM

      It won’t change the format. The top team in the conference plays the team in the second wild spot. The second place team in the conference plays the team in the 1st wild card spot.

      st. louis 110

      SJ 109

      wild card

      series 1
      st.l vs dallas
      series 2
      chi vs col

      series 3
      sj vs minn
      series 4
      ana vs la

      the winner of series 1 player the winner of series 2

      winner of series 3 plays winner of series 4

    • shortsxit34 - Mar 25, 2014 at 8:07 PM

      When they originally announced the new format, they made it sound like there was a “division championship,” but that is really nothing more than the winner of the bracket. There is no “Pacific Champion” “Central Champion” etc.–not in the playoffs, anyway.

      So like Joey said, it doesn’t matter if it’s 4/4 or 5/3, #1 team plays lower wild card, #2 plays higher wild card

      • shortsxit34 - Mar 25, 2014 at 8:14 PM

        Forget everything I just said. They really did make the new format as stupid as it originally sounded.

  6. live4hockey - Mar 24, 2014 at 6:30 PM

    I like it! Can’t wait!!

  7. pastabelly - Mar 24, 2014 at 6:38 PM

    I’d prefer the top two teams in each conference get the #1 and #2 seeds and see the rest seeded 3 through 8. I understand they won’t do this because of travel for west coast and central time zone teams, but it would make more sense from a competitive standpoint.

    • greatmiamisportsmind - Mar 24, 2014 at 7:51 PM

      I’d say if you can’t beat your own division (which is largely the most part of your schedule) then don’t complain about not being in. Top 4 in each division should make the playoffs and not this wild card crap

  8. killerpgh - Mar 24, 2014 at 6:40 PM

    I thought the NHL wanted to keep itself simple for the causal fan and that’s why we have generic division names instead of names that have true meaning to hockey fans…..

    I also thought I had a decent grasps of the “new” playoff system before watching this video. I feel more confused now. Maybe it was all the useless (but exciting) videos they showed instead of just getting to the actual point of the video.

    If I’m still understanding this correct a team can win a banner as division champions for a division they are not even officially a member of because of the possibility of the wild card placing them among the other division. Seems kind of stupid. But so is having 14 teams in the West and 16 teams in the East.

    • steeltuff - Mar 24, 2014 at 6:44 PM

      It actually is really simple.

  9. wjarvis - Mar 24, 2014 at 7:03 PM

    It’s really not that complicated, but I wish they only let a team switch divisions for the first two rounds of the playoffs if 5 teams from one division qualify. Using the standings as they are now, 3 of the 8 first round series wouldn’t be between teams in the same division, and it’s quite possible that will move to 4.

  10. joejacks - Mar 24, 2014 at 8:23 PM

    This format should be out the door along with Bettman!

  11. muckleflugga - Mar 24, 2014 at 8:27 PM


    i’ve employed rosetta stone … worn the works of stephen hawking thin … parsed magna carta in latin and senegalese

    consulted an expert in rules of cricket and australian football …

    none of this is helping me decipher your chart

    wtf … where are the wild-card teams in these hieroglyphics

    • greatmiamisportsmind - Mar 25, 2014 at 1:26 AM

      As annoying as I find Joey at times, he’s dead on accurate and a 2nd grader could decipher his chart. Doesn’t take much brains, dude

  12. valoisvipers - Mar 24, 2014 at 9:04 PM

    Jason, Thanks for doing this story! I was confused about the no reseeding part in the second round and now you have cleared that up for me. It is need to know info for the up coming playoff pools. Nice to see that you are committed enough to follow the boards.

  13. muckleflugga - Mar 25, 2014 at 1:51 AM


    the question was rhetorical

    the last time i checked there were two conferences but professor joey and his sycophant numpties herein are satisfied with a half-assed explanation suitable for the half-assed

    a complete explanation might have involved both conferences …

    your dudeness

    • shortsxit34 - Mar 25, 2014 at 8:24 PM

      For somebody that goes out of their way to make himself sound smart and look down on everybody, you don’t seem too bright. Can you not apply the same exact rules to the other conference on your own?

      Don’t worry, I’ve got my thesaurus ready to try and decipher whatever it is you’re going to reply with.

  14. flyboystransport - Mar 25, 2014 at 9:33 AM

    The only reason its not completely like the 80s set up (which if anybody on here actually remembers were really nasty and fun to watch) which was top 4 in each division is because the eastern conference has more teams in it than the western conference. Once the nhl expands itll likely go back to being top 4 in each division

  15. hockeydon10 - Mar 25, 2014 at 9:40 AM

    This is how I plan to figure out who my team will be facing.

    1. Wait for end of regular season.
    2. Go to
    3. Look at playoff match-ups.

    I really don’t care who the 2nd wild card spot in the west will have to play against and how the seeding will break down after the first round is finished and how one division could send five teams to the playoffs and all the other crap that people seem to obsess about, argue about, complain about and whine about.

    Did my team make it? If yes, then care about who the other team is. Simple.

Top 10 NHL Player Searches
  1. P. Kane (1843)
  2. P. Kessel (1417)
  3. M. Richards (1206)
  4. N. Backstrom (1119)
  5. M. Giordano (1064)