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The biggest lingering mystery about NHL’s realignment

It reportedly took less than an hour for the NHL Board of Governors to approve the radical new format for the League beginning next season: four conferences, an "interlocking" schedule that features home and away games against every team in the League; and a new divisional format for the first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

This might be due to the fact that one of the biggest questions has yet to be answered: What happens after the four conference champions are established?

Commissioner Gary Bettman said on Monday:

"That's something that we'll work out, and that's something I plan to do with the general managers at their meetings in the spring. We'll figure out what they want from a competitive standpoint. I think this is a decision I'll let the GMs make."

It would appear that they're faced with two options for the final four:

A. Maintaining a format in which the "Eastern" champion will play the "Western" champion for the Stanley Cup. Consider that the former Western Conference teams are now in eight-team conferences, while the former Eastern Conference teams are in seven-team conferences. Should the eights play the eights and the sevens play the sevens before the Cup Final? (Keeping in mind that the Phoenix Coyotes could be relocated to an Eastern Conference city in the next few years.)

B. Taking the four conference winners and reseeding them so the highest point-earner plays against the lowest point-earner in the Stanley Cup semifinals — geography be damned. Hence, the Boston Bruins and the Philadelphia Flyers could play for the Stanley Cup. Ditto the Toronto Maple Leafs and the New York Rangers. Ditto the Winnipeg Jets and the Edmonton Oilers. Ditto the San Jose Sharks and the Detroit Red Wings.

Patrick LaForge, the president of the Edmonton Oilers, told CHED Radio in Edmonton on Monday night that Option B is assumed to be the option that's eventual approved.

Of course, that doesn't resolve all the questions for this conference format, such as:

The biggest lingering mystery about NHL’s realignment1. Will we have four conference champions every season? Four banners raised along with that of the Stanley Cup champion? Twice the conference champions' swag produced for fans to splurge on?

2. Will we have two new trophies to go along with the Prince of Wales and the Campbell Trophy? Which divisions earn the right to call those historic pieces of hardware their own?

3. Finally … what are these conferences going to be named anyway? Are the Calgary Flames really going to have to battle for the right to win the Gretzky Conference each season?

Additional reporting by Nick Cotsonika.

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