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When does the hockey season end?

forfeit hockey game

The weather is starting to warmer up, the snow and ice are beginning to thaw, and you’ve started to wonder how many days remains in the hockey season.

Perhaps your team is having the worst season ever and you want this nightmare to end. 

Or maybe they are on the edge of making the playoffs and you want to know if they can nudge ahead or hold onto the final wild card spot.

It also could be your team is dominating and you want to get an idea how much time you’ll be committing to them through spring time.

Hint: If your team is that good, you might have to hold out even on early summer plans!

So, let’s get to the question you’ve asked…

When does the hockey season end?

The NHL season ends early to mid-June following the Stanley Cup Finals. This caps off a grueling 8.5 months of preseason, 82-game regular season and four rounds of playoffs combined. By season end, there are only two remaining teams competing for the championship, while all other teams are off for the summer.

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The only key dates during the offseason are the entry draft and July 1st free agency.

The entry draft typically takes place during the last week of June, following the Stanley Cup Finals but before free agency.

Keep in mind that not all players become free agents on July 1st, only those who have expiring contracts.

There have been exceptions made to all of these dates, especially during lockout years and most recently, due to the disruption from COVID-19 both in 2020 and 2021.

For example, the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs took place between August 1, 2020 and September 28, 2020.

So, what are some of those other key dates when teams may have an early end to the season?

End of Regular Season

Following the 82-game regular season, there are many teams that will not qualify for the playoffs. Typically, the regular season ends by the first week of April.

16 teams make the playoffs while the remainder pack up their bags and head on home or their summer place. 

Currently, there are 31 NHL franchises in the league, but it will be 32 as of the 2021-22 season. That leaves 15 disappointed teams that miss out on the playoffs - 16 as of next season.

Elimination from the Stanley Cup Playoffs

If your team is lucky enough to participate in the playoffs, there is still a large hill to climb. 

They need to win four separate rounds of playoff hockey to be crowned the champions. Keep in mind, that 15 other teams are trying to do the same thing. 

So, these teams compete in a best-of-7 series, where the team first to four wins advances to the next round.

If you'd like to read more about how the NHL playoffs work, make sure to check out my blog post here.

I explain in detail about the ranking format and how divisional match-ups work. The wild card teams are always the trickiest to understand!

Meanwhile, if your team falls short during any of the series, they’ll be packing their bags for an early summer and reflect on what might have been.

This disappointment will happen anytime between late-April and early-June.

As an avid fan for the 30+ years, the sooner your team loses – the better. The problem is that you become more committed and more hopeful the further along your team gets in the playoffs.

The result is greater heart break when the deep run comes to a halt.

Lastly, let me explain the different rounds of the playoffs:

Quarter Finals (Round 1): Mid-April to Late-April

Semi-Finals (Round 2): Late-April to Mid-May

Conference Finals (Round 3): Mid-May to Late-May

Stanley Cup Finals (Round 4): Late-May to Mid-July

Note that these dates are all approximate and the series may end sooner than expected.

Hockey Season Timeline for 2020-21

As of most recently, the last scheduled game for the 2020-21 NHL regular season is expected to be played on May 19th

This is following a few of games being pushed back due to COVID-19 outbreaks, including for the Vancouver Canucks franchise.

Basically, more than half the team tested positive for the virus mid-season and caused over two weeks delay in play. 

Because of this, the league had to reschedule their games and push back the playoffs as well.

Originally, the NHL anticipated to begin playoffs as of May 11th, but this is no longer the case.

The playoffs will start in late May and extend for approximately 2 months – ending around mid-July.

And for those that are wondering, the NHL has set the start date for the 2021-22 season to October 12 (source).

The new season will feature the addition of the Seattle Kraken, making them the 32nd franchise in the league.