The Board of Governor's approved NHL re-alignment to take effect next season. The 30 teams will be divided into 4 conferences; 2 of those conferences will have 8 teams and the other 2 will have 7 teams. The Bruins are in a 7-team conference with their current divisional partners (Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, and Buffalo) along with the new additions of both Florida teams (Lightning and Panthers).
The new schedule format will be that each team plays every other team in the league at least twice a season, with one game at home and the other away. The 7-team conferences will play their conference "rivals" 6 times each, with half at home and half away. The format for the 8-team conferences is too elaborately confusing to bother explaining since it doesn't effect the Bruins.
The playoff format will change, too. The top 4 teams from each Conference will qualify. The 1st round will be the number 1 team from the Conference against the number 4 team from that same conference, and 2nd place against 3rd place. The winner of each Conference matchup will meet in the 2nd round (if 1st place wins their series, and 2nd place wins their series, they will meet in the 2nd round). The winner of that series will move on to play in the 3rd round against one of the other 4 conference champions. The winners of those series will advance to the Stanley Cup finals. This means the Bruins could face current Eastern Conference teams Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey, NYI, NYR, Washington, or Carolina in the Stanley Cup finals. This also means that the Bruins will face a team in their new conference in both of the first two rounds of the playoffs no matter what.
The fact that 30 isn't evenly divided by 4 makes the 4-conference set up extremely irritating to me. Having uneven conferences means that teams don't all have a fair chance at making the playoffs - a team in an 8-team conference has more teams to beat to qualify for the playoffs than a team in a 7-team conference. The New York Times put it best: "Teams in the western-based conferences, with eight in each, have a 50% chance of making the playoffs. Teams in the east have a 57% chance. The imbalance is unfair." The article also points out "With the new focus on conference matchups, the Rangers, for example, will play the Bruins the same number of times they play the Sharks (twice)." I'm not too happy with the proposed change, but I doubt any change would have been acceptable. I suppose only time will tell if this format can work. I look forward to finding out the actual names of each Conference, as well.