When following the NHL, it’s important to know how league standings work. League leaders change from time to time which can make them seem confusing at first but with just a little bit of knowledge, you’ll be able to see what is going on in every game.
The purpose of NHL standings is to show which team at any given moment can make the Stanley Cup playoffs. The most important aspect here is points, or how many there will be for each team by “PTS.” Each club is battling just like in other sports leagues around North America where they’re vying against one another over who gets into their respective league championships game and ultimately walks away with bragging rights.
The NHL Standings are all about: Playoffs, Playoffs, Playoffs
As teams look at their place in the standings, the main question they are asking is: are we in a playoff position or not? It is all about getting a chance to win the Stanley Cup!
The 16 teams that will make the playoffs are based on points, not how many they have. If a team gets enough to qualify by themselves then there’s no room for another conference winner in their group and an extra bye day at least.
To help us determine if your team is in the playoffs or not vs. other teams, we need to learn two different things about the standings:
- What all of the symbols meant the top of the standings
- How each of the teams is grouped into conferences, divisions, and wild cards in the standings, and how that determines if your team is high enough in the standings to qualify for the playoffs
What is with all of the names and symbols in the standings?
Above are the symbols that are used in the standings on NHL.com/standings. Let’s go over all of them:
GP – Games Played. This is how many games the team has played so far in the season. Each team plays 82 games total over the season.
W – Wins. This is how many games the team has won in the season. Each win is worth two points.
L – Losses. This is how many games the team has lost in the season.
OT – Overtime/Shootout losses. If a team loses in overtime or a shootout they will still get one point in the standings.
PTS – Points. This is the cumulative amount of points that the team has earned from their games. Again, the team gets 2 points for a win and 1 point for an overtime/shootout loss.
ROW – Regulation plus Overtime Wins. This is the cumulative total of games that have been won by a team in regulation and overtime. The stat gives more weight to teams who win games through regulation time and overtime, and less weight to a win through a shootout. The ROW is used as a tiebreaker between teams who have an equal number of points in the standings.
GF – Goals For. This is the total number of goals that the team has scored in the season.
GA – Goals Against. This is the total number of goals that the teams have allowed in over the season.
DIFF – Goal Differential. This is the total number of goals scored by the team subtracted by the total number of goals scored against.
HOME – Home record. Each team plays 41 games at home during the season and this is the team’s record at home. The three numbers represented are Wins-Losses-OT, for example, 20-10-3, which translates to 20 wins, 10 losses, and 3 overtime/shootout losses.
AWAY – Away record. The record of the team when they are playing away from their home rink.
Examples of how to calculate the points for a team’s record
Let’s take the win-loss/record of 20-10-3:
- 20 Wins: 2 points each for 40 points
- 10 Loses: 0 points
- 3 Overtime/shootout loses: 1 point each for 3 points
- Total: 40+0+3 = 43 points
Let’s try one more with a win-loss/record of 32-22-7:
- 32 Wins: 2 points each for 64 points
- 22 Loses: 0 points
- 7 Overtime/shootout loses: 1 point for each for 7 points
- Total: 64+0+7= 71 points
Who is in the playoffs and who is not?
The NFL has a unique system for determining which teams make the playoffs. In each conference, there are 8 spots in their respective divisions that get filled by top three-point earners within those leagues; 6 more wild card positions are given out based on how well they perform outside of just being among one another’s best performers (i e: losing too many games).
A typical standings table will show the NHL teams in one of four ways: League, Conference, Division or Wild Card. In determining who is in the playoffs and who is not, the Wild Card version is the most important.
League – The NHL is a league where the best teams in terms of point total finish at the bottom. It’s interesting to see who will end up being eliminated from playoff contention early on, and this list may help with their placement for future drafts.
Conference – The current version of how the NHL standings are set up means that you have to beat out your conference in order for a team from one particular league to get any chance at reaching The Stanley Cup finals. But with this new format, it’s not clear who would make up those brackets if we started playing today.
Division – This version of the standings divides the NHL teams into their four respective divisions: Metropolitan, Atlantic, Central, and Pacific. his is more relevant because it gives an idea of how teams can potentially place at different positions within their leagues based on performance over time without having any regard for conference boundaries or geography which makes it easier when looking ahead to see if one team might have better chances than others during playoff competition.
Wild Card – This view of the league is a combination of Division and Conference standings. The top three teams in each division are displayed, with wild card spots underneath them for those who want to make playoffs (or just see what it’s like). You can also see how many points each team has led its respective race by; these are important details because they will help you know whether or not your favorite player has any chance at victory.
Let’s take a look at the final standings of the Western Conference for the 2018-2019 standings:
- Each conference is broken into three parts
- The two divisions are broken out with only the top three teams in the division represented
- The remainder of the teams in the conference who are not in the top three spots in the division are placed in the Wild Card portion of the standings
- The top team in each division will play one of the wild card teams.
- The teams who finish 2nd and 3rd place in the division will play each other in the first round of the playoffs
- The division winner with the most points will play the wild card with the least amount of points.
- The Wild Card winners are the two teams with the most amounts of points of the remaining 10 teams in the conference who did not place in the top 3 division slots.
- Any ties in the standings in points will be settled by who has the most ROW points. Remember this is whichever team has won the most games in regulation and overtime and does not include the shootout.
Let’s apply these rules to the standings above for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
- Calgary is a division winner and has the most points (107) so they will play the Wild Card team with the least amount of points (90), Colorado
- Nashville is also a division winner and plays the other Wild Card team, Dallas, that had the higher amount of points of the two Wild Card teams
- In the Central Division, Winnipeg and St. Louis finished 2nd and 3rd respectively, so they will play each other in the first round
- In the Pacific Division, San Jose and Vegas finished 2nd and 3rd respectively, so they will play each other in the first round.
- All of the teams below Dallas and Colorado miss the playoffs because they have not gained enough points
So the first round of the Western Conference playoffs would look like this:
- Calgary vs Colorado
- San Jose vs Vegas
- Nashville vs Dallas
- Winnipeg vs St. Louis