Understanding Wild Cards In The NHL

Each year as the NHL regular season comes to a close sixteen teams are selected to compete in the NHL playoffs. The top three teams in each division make up twelve of the sixteen teams are selected for the playoffs. The remaining four spots are given to the wild card teams.

A wild card team is one of the four teams that make the playoffs despite not being top three in their division. Two teams from each conference are selected as wild card teams.

These teams are selected based on regular-season points total. Meaning the top two teams in each conference that were not selected for the playoffs will earn a wildcard playoff berth.

Wildcards in the NHL are the lowest playoff seeding meaning the team is one of the last few teams to make the playoffs.

What Happens When You Are A Wild Card Team In The NHL?

Now that you know what a wild card team is in the NHL you may wondering what this means for those teams. The main affect that will arise from a team being selected as a wild card is the seeding of the team.

Seeding is a term used in sports to describe the rankings of each team entering playoffs or a tournament.

As a wild card you are going to be one of the lowest four seeds. The NHL playoffs bases two important factors on teams seeding.

These two factors are home games and matchups.

Home Ice Advantage

As you likely know NHL playoff series are a best of seven games. Since this is an uneven number of games only one team can get four home games.

The team with the higher seed will always have home-ice advantage. This means that as a wild card you will almost never have home-ice advantage. The only way in which a wild card can have home-ice advantage is if they end up playing another wild card team with a lower seeding.

This is quite an important factor as this means that the higher seeding will have home ice for the seventh game. Having home ice can provide a huge benefit to the team with 55% of playoff games being won by the home team in the playoffs.


Playoff matchups is another factor that plays into being an NHL wildcard team. The NHL playoffs seeds their teams so that the best teams in the playoffs are playing the worst. This means the teams ranked highest in the regular season will play the lowest-ranked regular teams.

This means that the two wild card teams in each conference will play the top division winners in the playoffs. The last team to qualify for a wild card position in the NHL will play the top team in the conference. While the other remaining wild card team will play the other division winner in their conference.

This makes the first playoff matchup incredibly difficult for wild card teams. The majority of wild card teams that make playoffs end up losing in the first round. This is often due to the difficult matchup they face against the top regular-season teams in the conference.

2 thoughts on “Understanding Wild Cards In The NHL”

  1. “The NHL playoffs seeds their teams so that the best teams in the playoffs are playing the worst.”

    I think it’s worth noting that’s how it’s SUPPOSED to work, but it doesn’t. Only the best teams of a *division* play the worst teams of a division. If the top 4 teams in the NHL are in the same division, they will play each other first & second round, while the worst 4 teams in the NHL will play each other in an entirely inferior division.

    If this actually worked the way you say, 1st vs. 16th, forget divisions, forget conferences etc, the playoffs would be greatly enhanced.

    Not to mention, different, fresh, new and exciting match ups every year.

    • you are absolutely right.. insane that top six teams will be eliminated in first round while lower ranked teams advance because they play weaker teams. Then you end up with two lousy teams at the end or one really good & another fodder team for them to win cup. The first round is hardest & gets progressively easier for teams each round they advance.


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