At the end of the regular season the team that accumulates the most points in each division (Metropolitan, Atlantic, Central and Pacific) is crowned the division champion. The NHL’s overall leader is awarded the Presidents' Trophy.
The top three teams in each division progress to the playoffs as well as two wild card teams from each of the Eastern and Western Conferences. These two teams are the best performing of the non-qualifiers.
The playoffs are played as a 16-team knockout competitions with a best-of-seven Stanley Cup Finals series to determine the NHL champions.
Montreal, Canada is considered the birthplace of modern organised ice hockey with the city hosting the first indoor hockey game in 1875. The origins of the NHL are also tied to Montreal, with the competition organised there in 1917 after the suspension of the National Hockey Association (NHA).
The NHL initially featured four Canadian teams, expanding to the United States in 1924 with the addition of the Boston Bruins. From 1942 to 1967 the NHL had only six teams that were nicknamed the “Original Six”, including the Boston Bruins, Chicago Black Hawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Six new teams were added to the NHL in 1967, with the league increasing to 18 teams in 1974 and 21 teams in 1979. In the 1990s the NHL expanded further to include 30 teams, with a 31st team added in 2017.
The NHL attracts the most highly skilled players from across the globe and currently has players from approximately 20 countries. A majority of players have historically come from Canada, with recent seasons seeing an increase in American and European players.
The entire 2004–05 NHL season was cancelled due to a labour-management dispute. Mediation was found between the governing body and the players association with the league resuming in 2005–06 under a new agreement that included a salary cap. The NHL bounced back in 2009 with record highs in terms of sponsorships, attendance, and television audiences.
The NHL season is divided into a regular season and a postseason known as the Stanley Cup playoffs. The regular season runs from October through to April with each team playing 82 games with two points awarded for a win, one point for losing in overtime or a shootout, and zero points for a loss in regulation.
Each National Hockey League regulation game is 60 minutes long, composed of three 20-minute periods. If a game is tied after regulation time the game moves to overtime, which is a five-minute, three-on-three sudden-death period with the first goal winning the game.
There are no shootouts during the playoffs, simply multiple sudden-death, 20-minute five-on-five periods which are played until one team scores.
The Stanley Cup playoffs runs from April to the beginning of June. It is an elimination tournament where two teams play in best-of-seven series to advance to the next round.
Like other North American sports, the NHL is divided into different conferences to minimise the vast distances between some of the teams. Eight teams from each conference qualify for the playoffs, the top three teams in each division plus the two conference teams with the next highest number of points.
The two conference champions contest the Stanley Cup Final, with the winner crowned the Stanley Cup champion.
The Montreal Canadiens are the most successful team in NHL history, winning 25 NHL championships and leading all teams with 24 Stanley Cups. The Canadiens also hold the longest streak of winning the Stanley Cup, winning five consecutive titles from 1955–56 to 1959–60.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are the next most successful NHL franchise with 13 Stanley Cup championships. The Detroit Red Wings have won 11 Stanley Cup championships and are the most successful American franchise.