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What Do NHL Playoff Seedings Means For Stanley Cup Chances?


Does a team that sneaks into the NHL playoffs as the 8th seed even have a chance at winning it all? As the Los Angeles Kings proved during the 2011-12 NHL playoffs, as the 8th seed out of the Western Conference, any seed has a chance. Historically though how has seeding impacted the chances of teams appearing in the finals and winning the Stanley Cup?

We decided to take a look at the past 20 Stanley Cup Playoffs (start of the current Eastern vs. Western playoff format) to see where Finalists and Champions have come from in terms of seeding. 

Where do Stanley Cup Finalists Come From?

Of the last 40 Stanley Cup Finalists, 31 (77.5%) of the finalists have been the 4th seed or higher. Nearly 50%, or 19 of those finalists have been either a 1st or 2nd seed. 

This isn’t too surprising as higher seeds hold an inherent advantage in both home-ice advantage as well as generally being the better overall team based on regular season play.

Stanley Cup Finalists
Seed West East Total
1 7 3 10
2 5 4 9
3 3 3 6
4 0 6 6
5 0 1 1
6 1 1 2
7 2 2 4
8 2 0 2
Total 20 20 40


Interestingly, more 6th, 7th and 8th seeds have made the finals than 5th seeds. Only one time, in the current playoff format, has a 5th seed made it to the Stanley Cup Finals - the 5th seed New Jersey Devils reached the 1995 Finals and eventually swept the 1st seed Detroit Red Wings.

Where do Stanley Cup Champions Come From?

Of the last 20 Stanley Cup Champions, only two teams seeded lower than 4th have won it all - the previously mentioned Devils (5th seed - 1995) and Kings (8th seed - 2012) with no 6th or 7th seed having won the Cup.

Stanley Cup Winner
Seed West East Total
1 5 2 7
2 3 2 5
3 3 1 4
4 0 2 2
5 0 1 1
6 0 0 0
7 0 0 0
8 1 0 1
Total 12 8 20


Since the 1994 Finals, 12 of 20 (60%) of Stanley Cup Champions have either been the 1st or 2nd seed. Looking at East vs. West, the 1st seed out of the West has won the most Stanley Cups at 5 followed by the 2nd and 3rd seeds also in the West at 3 each.

Statistical Chances (Past 18 Playoffs)

If your team is the following seed, based on the past 20 seasons and looking strictly at playoff seeding, here are the following statistical chances of them making the Stanley Cup finals and winning the Stanley Cup finals:

Seed Finals Cup
1 25.0% 17.5%
2 22.5% 12.5%
3 15.0% 10.0%
4 15.0% 5.0%
5 2.5% 2.5%
6 5.0% 0.0%
7 10.0% 0.0%
8 5.0% 2.5%


Don’t like the odds of the above, don’t worry by just appearing in the Stanley Cup playoffs you have a 1 in 16 or 6.25% chance of winning it all. So no matter what history suggests, there is always a chance.

Updated: to reflect 2014 NHL Playoffs. 



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