While the 2020-21 NHL season will have an unusual regular-season schedule because of the coronavirus, it is expected to go back to its historical norm after that, and for the purposes of this discussion, let's look at a typical NHL schedule.
There have been several innovations in recent years that have added to the NHL regular-season schedule, such as the Winter Classic and games overseas. But for the most part, the NHL has maintained the same basic features to its schedule for a long time now. Namely, it starts in the fall and ends in the late spring with each team playing 82 games. The regular season is followed by the Stanley Cup playoffs and wraps up in June with the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Let's take a deeper look at different aspects of the schedule and how the sausage is made for the Coolest Game on Earth.
NHL TV Schedule
It wasn't all that long ago that finding an NHL game on national television was next to impossible. For one dark year, in fact, the NHL's national TV rights holder in the U.S. was ... wait for it ... the OLN Channel.
Things have certainly improved for hockey fans in this area. The NHL has a national TV contract in the U.S. with NBC, which includes the network's sister channels NBCSN and CNBC, along with the USA Network. The games on the main NBC Network are usually select weekend games, along with the Winter Classic and playoff games.
NBCSN is the place to find most NHL action during the regular season. The NHL has its own network as well, the NHL Network, and you can often find games there. In Canada , the NHL maintains a large presence on Rogers Communications' Sportsnet Network. The league also is on the French language network RDS.
The league's former Canadian TV partner, TSN, still owns some regional TV rights in the country, such as for the Buffalo Sabres. Locally, most teams' games can be seen on various regional networks.
When Are The NHL Playoffs Projected To Start?
In a typical season, the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs start in early-to-mid April and run into early-to-mid June. The playoffs are four rounds, with the first three rounds used to establish and Eastern Conference and Western Conference champion. The conference champions meet in the Stanley Cup Final. Every round (conference quarterfinals, semifinals, finals and Stanley Cup) are best-of-seven series.
Why the NHL Schedule Matters
For NHL betting enthusiasts, the NHL schedule matters a lot. For instance: Bettors will want to know the back-to-back games, because very often teams play their backup goalie in that second game.
For example, say the Edmonton Oilers have back-to-back games with the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. The Oilers’ odds in the second game will take a slight hit. But maybe Edmonton has a hot backup goalie who has been lights out, and the Maple Leafs thought it would be an easy night? That overconfidence trap happens to plenty of teams, and smart bettors can take advantage of value odds.
While the NHL doesn't have nearly the home-team winning percentages as that of the NBA, sharp bettors still pay close attention to when teams have long road trips. Games toward the end of the trip tend to be losers for the road squad, especially on trips of five games or more.
Teams that play at higher altitudes, such as Colorado Avalanche and Calgary Flames, have higher oxygen levels among their players when they start Eastern road trips - or any place at sea level. What does that mean? Well, the Avs have had a very good record on Eastern road trips over the years, even in their bad years, and NHL players will often say it's because they felt they had a conditioning edge over their sea-level opponents. This applies in reverse for Eastern teams that go out West, too.
CHECK OUT: NHL Expert Picks Throughout The Season
How the NHL Creates Its Schedule
With more than 2,500 games in a normal NHL regular season, creating them for each team obviously is an arduous process. For a couple years, the NHL tried to go with a schedule that limited inter-conference play, but that created too many unhappy fans in some cities that didn't get to see certain teams or players in their town. Now, every team must play at least once in every opposing building.
In three of the four NHL divisions, teams play each other four times. But in the Central Division, which has seven teams compared to eight in the others, some teams play each other five times. In the Pacific Division, some teams play each other five times as well. When the Seattle Kraken joins the NHL in 2021-22, conference teams likely will all play each other four times.
NHL schedule FAQ
When is the NHL schedule released each year?
The NHL schedule is typically released a few days after the NHL Draft, which in most years is held in mid-to-late June. The NHL Draft is typically held a week or so after the Stanley Cup Final has finished.
When is the NHL All-Star Game?
The NHL All-Star Game is usually held in late January. The game is surrounded by several off days to give NHL players a rest ahead of the push toward the Stanley Cup playoffs.
When is the Winter Classic?
The NHL Winter Classic is held on January 1.
When is the NHL preseason?
The NHL preseason begins in late September after training camp and runs into early October as teams prepare for the upcoming season.
Are there bye weeks for NHL teams?
Yes, although they sometimes aren't for a full seven days. The weeks vary for each team.