The 2020-21 NHL season will be something we've never seen before.
The league never has had a 56-game season. It's had 48 and 50 and 60 games, but never 56. The NHL's four divisions have been temporarily realigned because of travel. There's a geographic reduction because of cost and COVID-19 concerns, and because regulations at the Canadian border necessitated that the seven teams from Canada form their own division. Interconference and interdivisional play won't happen, as teams will play a schedule exclusively against teams within their divisions.
It's a mad sprint to the Stanley Cup playoffs, and that's where things get really interesting.
This season, there's no East meets West format for the championship rounds. The first two rounds of the playoffs will be intradivisional, with the first-place team facing the fourth-place team and the second-place team playing the third-place team in the first round. Those winners meet to determine the division champion. The four division champions are then seeded by regular-season point totals, and the two winning semifinal teams play for the Stanley Cup. No conference or geographic constraints. May the best team win.
The temporary realignment and revised playoff format could produce dream Stanley Cup Final matchups we otherwise wouldn't see under the previous playoff format.
Here are the top 25 Stanley Cup Final matchups that normally are impossible but now entirely possible under the temporary format. Please note that by "possible" we mean "plausible." Seeing the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs play for the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1964 would be a kick, but the Red Wings are still deep in rebuilding mode.
That established, here is our ranking of "once in a lifetime" Stanley Cup Finals, beginning with the least plausible but undeniably enticing ones: