There will be 16 teams that qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as there have been since 1979–80. The current system is a predetermined bracket with wild cards that is primarily division-based.
The first 12 teams in the playoffs will be comprised of the top three teams in each division. The next two finishers in each conference, regardless of division and using regular-season record, will compete for the remaining four berths. In each conference, it is conceivable for one division to send five teams to the postseason while the other only sends three.
The division champion with the best record in each conference will face the wild card with the worst record in the First Round; the wild card with the better record will face the lesser-seeded wild card.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs format and eligibility requirements for the National Hockey League (NHL) can vary from season to season. However, I can provide you with a general overview of the format and eligibility requirements based on historical information up until my last knowledge update in September 2021:
Format: The Stanley Cup Playoffs consist of a tournament involving 16 teams: eight from the Eastern Conference and eight from the Western Conference. The playoffs are structured in a bracket format, with each conference having its own set of playoffs leading to the Conference Finals. The winners of the Eastern Conference and Western Conference Finals then face off in the Stanley Cup Finals to determine the NHL champion.
- Regular Season Qualification: In a typical season, teams compete in an 82-game regular season. At the end of the regular season, the top three teams from each of the four divisions in the NHL automatically qualify for the playoffs. These 12 teams earn spots based on their point totals in the regular season.
- Wild Card Qualification: In addition to the divisional qualifiers, the remaining four spots in each conference are filled by wild card teams. The wild card teams are determined based on the next two highest point totals among the non-divisional qualifiers in each conference. This means that wild card teams can come from any division within their respective conference.
- Tiebreaker Rules: In the event of teams having the same point totals, tiebreaker rules are applied to determine playoff qualification. These tiebreaker rules may include factors such as regulation and overtime wins, goal differential, and head-to-head performance.
- Playoff Seedings: Once the 16 teams are determined, they are seeded in each conference based on their regular-season point totals. The team with the highest point total in each conference faces the team with the lowest point total among the playoff qualifiers, and so on.
- Playoff Matchups: In each round of the playoffs, teams face off in a best-of-seven series. The higher-seeded team has home-ice advantage, meaning they have the privilege of hosting more games in the series. The matchups progress through each round until the Conference Finals, where the winners from each conference advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
- Stanley Cup Finals: The winners of the Eastern Conference and Western Conference face off in the Stanley Cup Finals. The series is played in a best-of-seven format, with the first team to win four games being awarded the Stanley Cup and crowned the NHL champion.
It’s important to note that the NHL may modify the playoff format and eligibility requirements from season to season. For the most accurate and up-to-date information, I recommend checking the official NHL website or other reliable sources for the specific playoff format and eligibility requirements for the current season.