It hasn't even been two months since the Boston Bruins were crowned the 2011 Stanley Cup champions, but that won't stop us from speculating about next year's Finals matchups.
The NHL is full of good rivalries right now and while most are conference rivals, there's still an opportunity for plenty of good interconference Stanley Cup Finals showdowns.
For the most part, this list is limited to teams that are considered contenders, but those that aren't will creep in due to that fact that seeing them in the Finals would be an absolute dream matchup.
So with the groundwork in place, it's time to look at the top 10 2012 Stanley Cup Finals scenarios.
See what I was talking about when I said some matchups won't happen? Nonetheless, this would be an awesome Stanley Cup Finals.
Not a lot of new NHL fans realize that the Red Wings and Maple Leafs hate each other. Until the Leafs changed conferences in 1998, the rivalry between the two teams was considered by most to be bigger than the rivalry between Detroit and Chicago.
No doubt Brian Burke has made some moves in an effort to turn the Leafs into a better team, but the idea that they're a Stanley Cup contender is absurd, so we'll have to wait awhile for this matchup to happen.
Undoubtedly Detroit and Toronto is the biggest interconference rivalry between Original Six teams, but that still doesn't make it the number one Original Six matchup on this list.
What!? Yep. Almost everybody who reads this is gonna think "My God, he's crazy." And I don't really blame you. How is a matchup between these two teams a good scenario for the NHL? Simple, because it forces the league's hand on something it should have done a long time ago.
Two months ago, I wrote an article explaining why Tampa Bay vs. Vancouver would be a good 2011 Stanley Cup Finals matchup for the NHL. Today, I stand by that opinion. The reason I say that Nashville vs. Tampa would be a good matchup is this: The NHL has worlds of talent in small markets that nobody knows about.
Steven Stamkos is arguably a top five player in the league and Shea Weber is, in my opinion, the league's best defender under the age of 30. The NHL likes to play favorites, as it's good for business to always promote the same teams.
That's not a bad thing, but it's also not a good thing. When you rely on only those teams to deliver, what happens when they're not there? What happens when you have another Anaheim vs. Ottawa matchup?
The basic principle is this: The league does a great job promoting the big market teams and a horrible job promoting the small market teams.
Let's face it, if Boston hadn't won the Stanley Cup, they'd still have rabid NHL fans pouring cash into the franchise. Just because Vancouver lost doesn't mean they're going to lose fans. Those teams have dedicated fans that will stay no matter what.
For Nashville and Tampa Bay, a Stanley Cup could solidify fans and strengthen their fan base. Before anybody says, "Tampa Bay won once," just remember that was right before the lockout that almost killed the NHL entirely.
All right, this one is pretty unlikely too, but it's certainly the most likely of any and all possible Stanley Cup matchups featuring Canadian teams.
Many people have this delusion that a Canada-only matchup would hurt the NHL, but I don't think that's true. For one thing, the Canucks were featured in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals and they still achieved the highest ratings on record for an NHL game in the United States.
Aside from that, the revenue that two Canadian teams would bring in would dwarf what most American franchises could do. A Stanley Cup appearance, let alone a Stanley Cup win, would mean a big paycheck for both franchises and the NHL as well.
And so begins the reign of money matchups. Here's the first. This is a great Original Six matchup, but what makes it so great for the NHL is two factors: Money and ratings.
First of all, you're talking about the two most valuable American franchises in the NHL—
that's instant cash. Sure, it will make the rich teams richer, but it's not even about that, it's about making the NHL richer as well. These two teams would inevitably draw in loads of cash for everybody.
When it comes to ratings, this is inevitable. You're talking about the biggest TV market in North America versus the Yankees of hockey.
When I call the Red Wings the Yankees of hockey, there are many more things wrong with that analogy than right, but I'm using it for the right. The Red Wings are the NHL's version of the team everybody will watch because they either undyingly love them or because they hate them to the bitter core.
Whatever the reason, it doesn't matter, as long as people watch. Trust me, people would watch this.
The dream scenario would easily be a game seven with Steve Yzerman and Mark Messier doing the ceremonial puck drop.
Another great Original Six matchup and the third one to make this list. There's something about the Wings and Bruins playing each other that is just awesome to watch. Maybe it's the talent of the teams or maybe it's the crowd atmosphere. I don't know what it is and frankly I don't care as long as it stays that way.
It also may be the last time we would get to see Nicklas Lidstrom and Zdeno Chara face off against each other. Lidstrom are Chara are the two best defensemen in the NHL right now despite the fact that Lidstrom is over the hill at age 41 and Chara isn't exactly in the average prime age at 34.
It would also be the battle of American goaltenders Tim Thomas and Jimmy Howard. I think we could spend all day watching Pavel Datsyuk in one-on-one situations against Thomas.
The fact is this pairing has great matchups within it and would be an instant draw for hardcore and casual NHL fans alike.
You absolutely can't go wrong with Original Six matchups. There isn't one possible matchup that would make for a bad Stanley Cup Finals.
What makes this one better is the fact that the Blackhawks were the 2010 Stanley Cup champions and the Bruins were the 2011 champions. It's basically a champion vs. champion scenario that is sure to draw viewers.
Coincidentally, both these cities draw bigger hockey ratings than they do basketball ratings. Maybe that's just because they both went so long without success, but when you're winning, does the reason really matter?
What makes this matchup even better? Despite both teams' history as Original Six teams, they've never faced each other in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Two very vocal buildings, two great teams, two great histories and one helluva Stanley Cup Finals.
The Final Showdown? Instant moneymaker. The top two players in the league, Pavel Datsyuk and Sidney Crosby, would face off in a matchup where the score is already tied 1-1.
People will claim, "I've seen enough of Pittsburgh vs. Detroit." The fact of the matter is that they will still watch. Great hockey is great hockey whether it's the same team or two different teams and everybody will want to see the tie broken.
Detroit fans and Pittsburgh fans hate each other with a passion and that would certainly make for some interesting and exciting audiences in each arena.
Detroit vs. Pittsburgh III? We'll take it.
To the casual fan, the tagline for this matchup could be "The Battle of the Richards Brothers." (There's a joke in that.) To hardcore fans, this is another great, but not so historic matchup. To the NHL, this is money. A lot of it.
The NHL, at least since the lockout, has had a tendency to cater to the casual fan for obvious reasons and this is the ultimate way of doing so. Sure, L.A. isn't one of the league's heavily promoted teams, but the number one and number two markets in North America facing each other is an absolute dream scenario.
Put it this way, if only 25 percent of New York City's and Los Angeles' metro populations tune into this series (that's a relatively low percentage for a championship series) the average number of viewers would be 8.5 million. That's as much as game seven of Boston vs. Vancouver and we're just talking about local ratings.
See what that does for the NHL? Cash cow. It is a potential gigantic payday all around and also helps expose an under-promoted L.A. team to the casual NHL fan.
If that's not the best picture edit ever, it's damn close. While this may not be the number one scenario for the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals, it's a close second.
When you produce the most-watched NHL game on record, you don't exactly leave many NHL executives disappointed. It would be another money-making series for the NHL and another great series of hockey.
Goal-scoring, great goaltending—you name it, this matchup had it. This series left fans of both teams on the edge of their seats, nervously chewing their fingers (heh) hoping their team would come home with the Cup.
If this showdown were to happen again, everybody would win. Great hockey, great rivalry and a great matchup.
Pretty simple reasoning here if you read the slide for the Rangers vs. Kings. There isn't one bad thing about this matchup. (Except for excessive smog)
You've got two Original Six teams that also happen to be the number one and number three markets in terms of size. How can that go wrong? The simple answer is that it can't. Not only would this be great hockey but it would be great money. Piles upon piles of money.
Take the same logic we applied to New York vs. L.A. and apply it to New York vs. Chicago, but crank it up about 40 percent because this is easily a better matchup and Chicago is by far a bigger hockey town than Los Angeles is. You're talking about an excess of 11 million viewers in Chicago and New York alone. That rating immediately shatters anything previously done by the NHL.
With the NBA inevitably missing a season due to a lockout, this is the best year for the NHL to make a huge splash. The best way to make that splash is with the Rangers and Blackhawks meeting each other in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Jordan Matthews is an avid fan of the NHL and frequently writes for the Detroit Red Wings and the NHL. You can follow Jordan by becoming a fan of his on Bleacher Report or by following him on Twitter by clicking the follow button below.