The NHL underwent a minor realignment, grouping teams geographically. The former Norris Division in the Prince of Wales Conference was renamed the Patrick Division, while the former Patrick Division in the Clarence Campbell Conference became the Norris Division. A new playoff format was also adopted, with teams playing first for division championships, then for conference championships, with the two conference winners competing for the Stanley Cup.
Wayne Gretzky had another record-shattering season. He began by scoring 50 goals in his first 39 games, wiping out the former record of 50 goals in 50 games, set by Rocket Richard and tied just the previous season by Mike Bossy. He went on to accumulate 92 goals, 16 more than Phil Esposito's former record. He also broke his own year-old record with 120 assists for the amazing total of 212 points, 48 more than the old record, which he had also set the year before.
Mainly because of Gretzky's prodigious performance, the Edmonton Oilers scored a record 417 goals and led the Smythe Division by 34 points. The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, the New York Islanders, had the best regular-season record in the NHL to lead the Patrick Division, while the Montreal Canadiens took first place in the Adams Division and the Minnesota North Stars led the Norris Division.
Upsets abounded in the playoffs. In the Adams Division, the fourth-place Quebec Nordiques eliminated Montreal in the first round and beat the second-place Bruins in the second round. Another fourth-place team, the Chicago Blackhawks, won the Norris Division playoffs. Most shocking, perhaps, was the Los Angeles Kings' first-round upset of the Oilers. The Kings came back from a 5-0 deficit in Game 3 of the best-of-five series to tie it up. They then won in overtime and went on to take the series. The Kings, who finished fourth during the regular season, were then eliminated by the second-place Vancouver Canucks.
The Islanders were challenged early in the playoffs, but managed to beat Pittsburgh in a five-game preliminary round series and then eliminated the New York Rangers in six games before sweeping Quebec in the conference finals. The Canucks, meanwhile, beat Chicago in five games for the Campbell Conference championship.
In the first game of the Stanley Cup finals, Vancouver held a 5-4 lead in the third period. But Mike Bossy got a goal to tie and scored again in overtime to win the game. After that, it was fairly for the Islanders, who won the next three in a row for their second consecutive finals sweep and their third straight Stanley Cup championship.
Bossy won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the playoffs. He had 17 goals in 19 post-season games.