How many games in a NHL season? Regular Season, Playoffs, Exhibition and more

When looking at the standings it is always helpful to know how many games a team plays in a NHL season. How long is left in the season? Does your team still have a chance to make the playoffs? 

How many games are in an NHL season? Each NHL team will play 82 games a season – 41 home and 41 away games. In addition, each team will play 7 or 8 exhibition games with 16 teams qualifying to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

Let’s breakdown how an NHL season would look for each team (and who they play against) starting with the Exhibition Season and then the regular season followed by the playoffs.

How many games in a NHL season? 

The broad NHL season is divided up into three sections with different amounts of games:

  • Exhibition Season: 6 to 8 games
  • Regular Season: 82 games
  • Stanley Cup Playoffs: 16 to 24 games

Let’s look at all three sections more in-depth. 

How many games does each team play in the Exhibition Season?

Training camp starts for NHL teams in mid-September to get ready for the regular season in early October. 

As part of training camp teams play 7 or 8 exhibition games to help get ready for the season. These are definitely not the most exciting games, and, I think, that about half that many games is all that is needed. 

However, the NHL likes the additional revenue that these generate. For instance, if you want to buy season tickets to a team you have to buy the exhibition games as part of the package – there is no other option. 

Most of the exhibition games will be played against the 3-4 teams that are geographically closest to each other.

How many games does each team play in the regular season?

Each NHL team will play 82 games in a regular season – 41 homes games and 41 away games. 

The schedule for each team is designed so that they will play 2 to 5 games at home and then 2 to 5 games on the road. This pattern continues throughout the season where each team will average 7-8 home and road games per month. 

Another way to view the schedule is that teams often will be playing on average every other night. It isn’t quite that busy, but not far from it. 

The NHL regular season is not a sprint – it is a marathon.  And the prize for winning this marathon is a trip to the Stanley Cup playoffs!

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The games are tough. The travel is tough. These players are tough. 

How many games do they play against their division, within the conference, and against the other conference? 

The NHL regular season schedule breaks down as such: 

  • 3 to 4 games against teams in it’s own division (26 games total)
  • 3 games against the other division in your Conference (24 games total)
  • 2 games against teams in the opposing Conference (32 games total)

How many total games are in the NHL regular season? 

The NHL has 32 teams and each of them play 82 games – so what is the total number of games played during the NHL regular season?

With the 32 team schedule the NHL has a total of 1312 games to play during the regular season. The regular season starts at the beginning to mid-October and goes to the beginning of April.

The 1312 games does not include any preseason games or playoff games. 

How many games does a team play in the playoffs?

The Stanley Cup tournament is made up of 16 teams with 4 rounds of best-of-seven series.

For a full breakdown see: How do the NHL playoffs work?

This means that the first team to win four games against the other will win the round and move onto the next. And with 16 teams, it takes winning four rounds to win the Stanley Cup.

Therefore to win the Stanley Cup a team must win 16 games. The maximum number of games a team could play in the Stanley Cup playoffs (either the winners or finals loser) will be 28 games. 

A team has never won the Stanley Cup playing the maximum 28 games – it has always been lower. 

If your team keeps on playing 7 game series it takes too much of a toll on the body. A team benefits so much from finishing a series early and getting some extra days of rest before the next grueling series. 

Total number of hockey games teams or players could play?

The total number of games a player could play in a season breaks down as this:

  • Exhibition: 8 games
  • Regular Season: 82 games
  • Playoffs: 28 games

The maximum number of games played in a season: 108 games. 

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In addition, if the year included the Olympics or World Cup of Hockey that could add on another 10 games of hockey for a top player. 

Has the NHL always had an 82 game season? 

No the amount of the number of games a team has played in an NHL season has changed over time. 

The games per year have increased as the decades rolled by, and a few seasons were impacted by lockouts and wars. But, generally, the seasons have got longer. The high point was 84 games for two seasons, but the schedule has settled into 82 games, which I think is here to stay for the foreseeable future. 

Here is a breakdown of a handful of the years in NHL history and how many games were played in the regular season: 

  • 22 games in the first regular season in 1917
  • 48 games a season by the early 1930s
  • 60 games a season in 1946-47
  • 70 games a season in 1949-50
  • 80 games a season in 1974-75
  • 84 games a season in 1992-93 and 1993-94
  • 82 games a season from 1995-96 to present 

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