Thursday, July 21, 2016

The NBA takes a Stand, and takes away Charlotte's All-Star Game

More often than not, sports leagues talk the talk when it comes to taking important stands on political issues and advocacy, but never truly walks the walk. Adam Silver's NBA has walked the walked since he took over for David Stern. While the episode with Donald Sterling certainly forced his hand, his response to it showed the gumption of a man that would be willing to take bold stances when not only required, but when he could put his league at the cutting edge of a discussion more leagues should be having: with their enormous financial muscle, they can influence key political decisions.

Taking away Charlotte's NBA All-Star Game next February, and the $100 million that would have gone to the state of North Carolina with it, is a stance that no sports commissioner in this country has taken voluntarily before. It is a public sign that the NBA doesn't stand for discrimination against a group of vulnerable individuals, and they won't just say they don't stand for it, they'll prove it. Most every league and team pays lip service to the LGBT community by having pride nights, working with organizations like You Can Play, etc. and those are good first steps. But, having realized that his league is in a position of power, not acquiescence, he made his move and subsequently set a precedent that other leagues will have to follow.

In today's climate of outrageous partisan division and little respect for those with different beliefs, some would say that it makes sense for a sports league, an entertainment product first and foremost, to stay just that to be the escape mechanism that many need to get away from all of the poisonous news there is. But with these leagues making the money that they do, much of that coming from public subsidies for the arenas/stadiums the league's teams play in, they have as much of a right to make a political stand as actors, musicians and other artists have had for years. Sports, in that they are entertainment and an escape, are no different to any of the other forms of entertainment and art that have existed for centuries, and therefore they have a right to take a political stand on issues they deem important.

Usually, these leagues only make decisions like this under immense external pressure. The NFL took Super Bowl 27 out of Arizona for not recognizing Martin Luther King day, under forceful pressure from the watching world. AFL players attending the 1965 AFL All-Star Game in New Orleans, after being ruthlessly discriminated against in the lead up to the game, decided to boycott the game and forced it to be moved to Houston. Athletes and sports leagues sometimes forget to realize the immense power they wield to influence change, but in 2016 that seems to be changing.

Whatever your beliefs on North Carolina's NC2 law are (it's pretty easy to tell what this writer thinks), what the NBA is doing here is unprecedented. Bands can take their concerts out of cities, states, etc. for political reasons, but they are just one band of many. All-star week in every sport is a major financial and perception boon for these cities, and attract all kinds of tourists, businesses, etc. to these towns that may not otherwise come. The NBA has decided that it is bad for its business (and the many businesses that rely on them) to have a showcase for itself played in a state that has a discriminatory law on its books. Paying lip service to the idea of taking away Charlotte's All-Star Game is one thing, and many would accuse those statements of being a leverage play, but Adam Silver wasn't bluffing.

Cities looking to pick up the relocated festivities include Chicago, New York and New Orleans. Louisiana recently passed laws against LGBT discrimination in public workplaces, a stark contrast to what North Carolina has been doing, and the states aren't all that dissimilar politically. Under pressure from other businesses and groups, the governors of Indiana and Georgia either changed or rejected similar to ones that North Carolina's governor Pat McCrory is steadfastly behind. Sports leagues, as incredibly powerful businesses themselves, have immense power to influence change where they want to but often times they play coy or put themselves in the middle so as to not alienate anyone, which now seems out of date and out of touch.

Gary Bettman, Roger Goodell, Rob Manfred, Don Garber and many other men have a tough act to follow and a tough precedent to meet that has now been set by Adam Silver. They, like Silver, run immensely profitable and powerful businesses that have the ability to impact meaningful change for the states and country they do business in. For their many missteps with regards to issues like this(as the WNBA has fined teams for wearing shirts with protest messages on them during warm-ups, a decidedly more nuanced issue than this one), these leagues can earn good will and good press by taking these stands. Many have clamored for them to do so for years.

In a year in which there has been too much negativity, Adam Silver's NBA answered that long waiting bell. He should be applauded and celebrated for it.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Mike Conley making $153 million: New Normal or New Lunacy?

Part of the insanity that is the NBA's free agency is watching the world react as middling players cash in as if they just won the Mega Millions jackpot. Mike Conley is making $153 million over five years (now the most lucrative in NBA history, which will last another week, maybe), Timofey Mozgov is making $64 million over four years, and Solomon Hill will now make $52 million over four years; all of those deals were agreed to yesterday. The NBA's salary cap went from around $70 million to $94 million thanks to the new and gigantic TV deals from ESPN/ABC/TNT, and the cap is going up even more next summer when even bigger free agents are going to be on the market. Naturally, athletes from other sports took notice:

So it is now true that middle-of-the-road, average NBA players are now getting massive, fully guaranteed contracts that perception would tell you they aren't "worth" and they don't "deserve". How did the middle class in the NBA start raking in the dough that the rookies can't touch and the big players somehow don't receive either. But, unlike what DeAngelo Williams and Emmanuel Sanders believe, this has become the new normal not just in the sport they're commenting on, but their's, as well as hockey, soccer and baseball. As fans, observers, and wannabee economists, we must all re-set what our expectations of "fair value" are, even in the era of moneyball and advanced analytics which have tried desperately to re-set those expectations in the other direction. How did sports leagues get to this point, and how can we as fans adjust our expectations?

In every major sport in this country, the wages that rookies can make are capped or slotted depending on where they are drafted, or in the NHL, playing as a rookie at all. The NBA has had a rookie scale since the 1998-99 lockout, the NFL's is new as of the recent CBA, MLB players are paid slot value based on where they are drafted, and NHL players entry-level contracts are bonus and incentive laden with little base money. So, as rookies are paid less and less in order to prevent madness like Matthew Stafford's initial NFL contract in which he nearly became the highest paid player on his team, or how Wayne Gretzky ended up becoming an Edmonton Oiler and escaping the Entry Draft, where else is the money going to go with established salary floors in the NBA, NHL and NFL? Combine this with the incentives teams have to re-sign their players in most leagues by being able to offer them longer term deals, very few high end players ever end up hitting free agency to begin with, and those that do end up being of lesser quality with the demand for their services increasing.

What also adds to the insanity is that in the NBA and NHL, contracts are artificially limited at the top end. A max contract is part of the NBA's furniture, as are contract lengths in the NHL to prevent what had become so prevalent in recent years before the 2012-13 to prevent backdiving the contracts to lower cap hits. Limits at the top and bottom ends of the scale have meant that those in the middle, in theory the largest group of players, get to reap the rewards that the big fish and rookies can't touch. This means that players like Mike Conley in the NBA and Milan Lucic in the NHL can strike it rich while better players sit out as they're tied down by restrictions that tether them when they're at the top of their game. Both leagues have a salary cap floor, or a minimum amount of money needed to be spent on payroll, which means that in order to make the floor as revenues spike for both leagues, who reaps the benefits of all that extra money in the system? The middle men. What is different about the NBA compared to its peers in the NFL and NHL is that those two leagues have prided themselves on parity and competitive balance that the NBA will never see, and because of the weird timing of free agency with this CBA and when the new TV contracts kicked in, the world has seen how average NBA players are making more than most NFL and NHL players will make in a lifetime.

The phenomenon of the "middle class" suddenly becoming unconscionably wealthy is not NBA exclusive. The NHL's supposed "middle class" is being paid out of proportion to even what the top players are worth, i.e. Andrew Ladd is making as much money next season as John Tavares is with the Islanders. While the NHL's hard cap and few exceptions to it mean that wages are more controlled than they are in the NBA, rising HRR and a new expansion team down the road means there is more money in the system for the Loui Eriksson's and Dave Bolland's of the world (he is the second highest paid forward on his team, even though he likely won't play a minute this season). And in the Premier League, as TV contracts massively inflate the coffers of every club thanks to largely equal distribution of those massive funds, as is the case in American sports, clubs like Crystal Palace are able to make 38 million Euro bids for players that should in theory be way out of their league, such as Michy Batshuayi, who is heading to Chelsea. There are no salary caps in the Premier League, and UEFA's Financial Fair Play is easily exploitable and practically worthless in practice.

What has now emerged from the NBA's Supermarket Sweep of spending on sub-standard second tier players is a crisis of perception, and potentially a labor crisis. Naturally, the owners in smaller markets are going to want to tamp down on these ridiculous contracts for the game's so called middle class, which the NBAPA is going to fight back on, hard. NHL owners are probably going to want to do the same, because there is no clean way to get out from under bad contracts in both leagues as the deals are almost fully guaranteed. NFL players are watching with earnest interest and wondering why they're not given fully guaranteed contracts considering the game they play and the dangers they face, and why their earning ceiling is so much lower than Mike Conley's, for instance.

Regardless of whether contract figures like what have been handed out in the NBA and NHL over the past few days are the new normal, and they are in many respects, there is a massive problem in creating not only equity within the system, but an effective tiered mechanism so players can be paid what they might be really worth, not what an inefficient and closed market believes they are worth. Thanks to the multiple and artificial limitations imposed on the closed markets for most leagues, including the NBA, the very few players who are not restricted in what they can earn and how long they can earn that for end up reaping the rewards, and fans and observers are left to scratch their head as to why.

CBA negotiations for all sports leagues are incredibly contentious, and will grow even more so as the money infused into these leagues continues to skyrocket, which makes the likelihood of any clear compromise that rectifies the inefficiencies and the madness unlikely. And as with every CBA negotiated in every league, a new and unforseen problem emerges every single time which ends up becoming easily exploited and renders most of the hard work from before practically moot.

Thanks to these inefficiencies, caps and the like, players like Evan Turner, Troy Brouwer and Mike Conley can cash in like they're on the Nickelodeon Super Toy Run while their respective leagues top and bottom feeders can do little if anything about it and onlookers peer on in shock, horror and amusement.

Mike Conley's $153 million record breaking contract is not the new normal. The future Mike Conley's getting similar if not bigger contracts is.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ratings Don't Need Your Validation

While the NHL was off last Saturday night, the events of that evening had to make Gary Bettman and a few NBC executives shudder. Golden State beat back Oklahoma City to force a Game 7 that wouldn't just go against their Stanley Cup Final Game 1 broadcast on NBC, it took out most of a captive Bay Area audience that would now watch the Warriors instead of the Sharks. And the early numbers are not promising: hockey scored a 2.8 rating on NBC (not terrible by any stretch, only series with the Blackhawks did better), but Thunder/Warriors did 11.2 on TNT, which is coincidentally the highest ever NBA rating on cable.

Hockey fans, as defensive as any group of fans this side of soccer, are naturally scrambling to find explanations for this. From talking about NBC's total ownership of hockey coverage in the US to demographics and everywhere in-between, hockey fans are trying to ascertain why such a massive disparity exists between two sports that were once about dead equal in popularity. Something this stark only elucidates a gap that has been well known, but hasn't really been able to be seen in this clear detail.

Part of this difference has to do with the way the sport is marketed in this country. The focus is put on rivalries, which isn't a bad decision because the NHL is filled with great rivalries. But often times those rivalries are focused on to a point of over-exposure, even if those games and series are worth the wait. Adam Silver's NBA on the other hand doesn't need teams or markets in the Finals, because his league only needs certain players in the big show to succeed. A decade ago, Golden State and Cleveland were both basketball wastelands, but thanks to clever marketing and jaw-dropping performances, not anymore. There would be panic in some circles if Memphis and Toronto played in the NBA Finals, but once a new force builds in the league, they quickly find a way to market it to the public and make sure they find something to latch onto in case they get big.

Gary Bettman's NHL has hitched their wagon so tightly to rivalries and certain teams (also by extension, certain markets), that if those markets are gone, so too go the ratings. While the early and mid-2000's were a wasteland of small-market American teams against smaller market Canadian teams, or series like New Jersey-Anaheim, the ratings on ABC were better on average than they are now on NBC. During the dead-puck era, and when the Finals were almost exclusively blowouts, FOX did better, though not by much. The best NBC average for the Final is 3.3 when the Blackhawks played the Bruins in 2013. ABC's worst since they picked up the Finals in 2003 was a 6.2 in 2007. The NHL has always been playing catch-up, and will continue to do so.

Hockey's relative struggles in the US can also be attributed to demographics, and of course the sheer ease with which anyone can play basketball that's not even close to present in hockey, but that doesn't translate entirely to TV ratings. While this Stanley Cup Final is full of stars on both sides, the series is still pushed as Sharks-Penguins, not Thornton-Crosby, etc. Golden State-Cleveland is still that, but it's more Steph-Lebron, and there you have a winner. The NHL's small cadre of superstars all exist in major markets, and beyond that it seems like the stars on the other teams across the league are left in the cold. If the Raptors made the NBA Finals, NBA executives wouldn't be hugely pleased, but they'd still find a way to market DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry to make up for it.

But the NHL's biggest problem is keeping fans of teams who aren't in the Final (and the rest of the playoffs) to stick with it after their team is eliminated. Thunder fans, though by in large probably angry with basketball, will still watch Cavs-Dubs, as will fans in New York, LA, Boston, etc. NHL teams have such tribal fanbases that it has become accepted that some fans like their team well beyond like the league and the sport of hockey. Sharks-Penguins is a hockey purist's dream Stanley Cup Final, with storylines everywhere, fast paced up and down play and engrossing action from start to finish, but yet it seems that many in Chicago, Boston, Detroit, New York, etc. are missing out. How does the NHL fix this problem? It's a riddle they've yet to come close to solving. Once they crack it, maybe then the NHL's ratings will finally show some upward growth.

While there is concern in the corridors of the NHL's New York offices about the ratings dilemma, they're certainly not complaining about the money they're making. Safe to say, the NHL has never made a financial windfall like they're currently stuffing into their coffers, indifferent TV ratings aside. Hockey as a sport has always been outstripped in popularity by baseball, basketball and football, and some of that stems from the days when it was basically impossible to watch the Stanley Cup Final on TV. But the NHL has yet to capitalize on the momentum it has seen from big market teams becoming dominant of late and using that to market not only the markets, but the stars everywhere else too. It's only upward momentum of late was the John Scott controversy they created themselves and tried desperately to kaibosh not knowing what they had.

Maybe NBC and NBCSN's ratings will go up as Sharks-Penguins continue because of the teams involved and the style of play, but everyone has a feeling as to what the ceiling is going to be. No amount of griping from hockey's die-hards is going to change what already was inevitable.

In other words, if you want casual fans to watch, pray for overtime and a long series, which has been the formula for the Stanley Cup Final forever.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Ads on Jerseys! Cue Moral Outrage!

Now that the Philadelphia 76ers have officially become the first "Big Four" American sports team to have an ad on their jersey, the fears of so many sports fans have come home to roost. "Jerseys are sacred, and shouldn't be defiled by sponsorships", they cry. "Ads are everywhere else around us, why should they be on jerseys?" they ask. Not only was this coming for years, especially under the stewardship of the more progressive Adam Silver, ads on jerseys aren't as sacrilegious as everyone might have expected.

First, let's take a look at the new StubHub patch adorned on the Sixers classic look:
The patch is as small as advertised, and actually blends in quite nicely with the color scheme of the jersey. Unlike with soccer kits, where the sponsor is the most noticeable logo, on these jerseys they are an accessory, adornment to what you actually want to see, which is the team name and number. After long enough, most fans will either accept that the patch is there, or not even consciously notice the ad because it's become part of the uniform.

StubHub is paying the Sixers $5 million per season for this ad patch, which is quite a lot of money for an incredibly small rectangle most fans won't notice unless the broadcasts do a close-up on any given player. $5 million is not an insignificant amount of money, even in an NBA where the salary cap is going to explode because of an influx of TV revenue. While the ad money will probably help the bottom line look a bit nicer, this new money could easily be used to spend more on players and coaches, lower ticket and concession prices and spend on arena upgrades without fleecing taxpayers for it.

There are complains that some teams will be able to goose even more money out of sponsors for this patch because certain teams are bigger names than other. The Lakers will be able to charge more for an ad than say the Hornets, for example, and that's not surprising. That's been the case in soccer for years, but unlike in soccer, where teams sell almost everything individually, in the NBA, most revenue is still collected and pooled together and distributed evenly, which combined with the soft cap, is supposed to level the playing field. Ad revenue from a jersey patch isn't going to put the Lakers or Knicks over the top because they already are swimming Scrooge McDuck style in a vat of gold, where the ad revenue could make a significant difference for a team like Indiana, Milwaukee or Utah.

American sports were always outliers when it came to ads on jerseys, as the rest of the world certainly lapped our big four in that regard. It was always a race against time as to when Pandora's Box would have to be opened, because even with the "sanctity of the jersey", money always talks. The concept angers more people than how the ads have actually been executed, especially since future leagues will go the NBA's route with the patch rather than the full adornment common in soccer because in business, copycats rule all.

So the day has finally come when ads have spoiled the protected surface of the American sports jersey. Society is ruined and the sports-industrial complex in this country is crumbling beneath our feet. Or, by December of 2017, no one will even notice the ads and many will wonder why it took so long for this "dipping a toe in the pool" to come around in the first place.

Change is inevitable, and with the amount of changes that come to sports uniforms anyway, why shouldn't we be surprised that ads come with it? Any way to make money is a good way to make money and stay ahead.

If the abject terror that are the Philadelphia 76ers see it, why shouldn't everyone else?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Watch a non-Hockey fan Discover the game during a Game 7

The post you're about to read is different than what you'll usually see on this site. Normally, I like to traffic in posts where we can deep dive into topics and analyze them with a more critical set of eyes to try to answer pressing questions. This is not one of those posts, but is to me at least, one of the most amazing pieces I'll ever write.

Last night, the hockey world was subsumed by Blackhawks/Blues Game 7, as it should have been. Playoff hockey is at its best when it's played as that game was. The NHL is desperate to attract new audiences to watch these games because what league/business isn't eager and clamoring to do so? As "Hockey Twitter" found out last night, someone new was watching.

(Note that there is some language in these tweets that I wouldn't normally include here, but it's not like Twitter gives me the option to edit these things)
A black sports fan from St. Louis discovered hockey in the middle of a Game 7. The NHL has struggled to bring in black audiences despite P.K Subban being amazing at everything and Don Waddell's feeble attempts to have most of the NHL's black players play on the Thrashers in their meek final days in Atlanta. Tony's timeline went viral in the best possible way as Game 7 worked to its apex.
Isn't that the way we all learned about hockey, through the Mighty Ducks? I can't wait until he finds out there was a team in the NHL named after that movie, and they play in a Game 7 tomorrow night! For learning on the fly though, he's done quite a decent job. Questionable language and racial connotations aside, Tony is letting the light of hockey into his life and having an epiphany before the internet's twitchy eyes, and it is wonderful in every way. He even found a way to endear himself to "Hockey Twitter" without even knowing it. Glean what you will from that on your own. So after the Blues won, fittingly, after giving this man the night of his life, Tony has been hooked. Although, someone does need to tell him about the whole fighting dying off thing. "Hockey Twitter" is normally not the most accepting and welcoming place in the world. Hardcore hockey fans are very protective of the game from the outside sports world, which means casual fans, general sports talk shows (and sadly women) are often left on the outside and alienated when they try to enter this world. Tony however, after letting the light of hockey into his life, wasn't just accepted, he was embraced and beloved by almost all hockey fans, and it was a beautiful sight to behold. And now that the Rams have bolted for Los Angeles, Tony needs something to fill the void. The Blues will fill that void. Not only does everyone get to watch him live-tweet more playoff games down the stretch, but he's been accepted into a family that isn't usually willing to expand its embrace. It was a very good night for hockey and hockey fans, and hopefully Gary Bettman was looking at this whole phenomenon thinking about ways of capitalizing on it. Or, on second thought, maybe we should just let Twitter and Reddit deal with it. Bettman might not "get it".

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Moralizing About Fans

By now, the immediate outrage of what happened at Game 3 between the Caps and Flyers last night has probably subsided. What started with a dangerous and frankly disgusting hit by Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on Dmitry Orlov devolved into Flyers fans throwing the light up bracelets attached to the seats at Wells Fargo Center to be used for the Ed Snider tribute onto the ice. Philadelphia sports fans are not know for their subtlety, or grace in defeat or anger, but last night felt like a new low. But is that because many of us at large spend so much time moralizing fandom and the conduct of fans, particularly in Philadelphia?

It's no secret that I grew up outside of Philadelphia obviously in a sea of Philly sports fans when I myself loathed most all Philly teams. When my elementary school held a pep rally for the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX (I was in fifth grade), I wore my Byron Leftwich Jaguars jersey to school that day in protest (and was forced to go to the pep rally anyway even though I made it obvious I had no interest), and had beer dumped on me at a Phillies game when I wore a Mets shirt, so maybe my views here are slanted in one direction. Or maybe, after dealing with the Philadelphia sports scene ever since I started following sports, maybe my experiences can shed more light on the situation. The real answer here is: fans and media love to moralize fandom, particularly for dissident groups and vocal groups of fans outside their own hemisphere.

What happened last night was obviously heinous on the part of the Flyers fans who threw bracelets at Dmitry Orlov on the bench, and after that. Lou Nolan even said in essence, "what the hell are you people doing?" to the fans who wouldn't admit their team was outclassed. Having all of this boil over on the night the team honors Ed Snider punctuates the situation even more. The outrage that followed is not surprising, because this is another incident to throw on the pile of incidents that defines Philadelphia sports fandom which includes throwing D-Cell batteries at J.D Drew, snowballs at Santa, a courtroom inside the Vet, fighting Tie Domi in the penalty box, etc. One of the most popular Philly sports blogs is called "The 700 level", after the cheap seats at the Vet, so Philly fans know their history. But last night felt like the end of the rope for the town and its fans, even from those who accept this kind of behavior because "it's Philly". Even Ryan White showed complicity in "endorsing" what the few Flyers fans did at the end of Game 3. But moralizing fandom and condemning other groups of fans is nothing new, and with the internet the moral outrage is louder than ever.

Every group of fans has its bad seeds, though it seems Philly's bad seeds sprout bigger and uglier flowers. One of Twitter's favorite running jokes is about how St. Louis Cardinal fans proclaim themselves to be "the best in baseball", and then jump on them when some do stupid and insidious nonsense like calling now Cubs OF Jason Heyward the N-word. That rightfully deserves outrage, but not all Cardinals fans do that, just as not all Flyers fans would throw light-up bracelets at injured players from the opposing team. Hindsight is always 20/20, so saying that of course the Flyers marketing staff should have seen what occurred coming but they aren't cynical enough to actually believe anyone would do it, particularly on Ed Snider night. The media and other vocal fans can use that lens freely, while others can't. Whether it's #NotAllFlyersFans or #ItsJustBandwagoners, you could replace Flyers fans with any other group of fans across the world and name something stupid they've done. In Italy, fans of one soccer team threw flares at the head of the opposing goalie, and that's somehow common. It wasn't actually Canucks fans who incited the riots after losing Game 7 in 2011 to the Bruins, it was "anarchists in Canucks jerseys who aren't really fans". The emperor continues to find new clothes to wear, but still gets stoned every time.

Immediacy begets sweeping generalizations, not just in sports but everywhere. One of my tenets of sports fandom, like fandom of bands, actors, etc., is that it's inherently irrational. No rational human being would stake happiness and well being to the performance of a team playing a child's game for insane amounts of money that we the fans have no control over. It's the Roman Gladitorial Arena for the modern generation. What fans will "endorse", or let slide in the name of their team, will often times be slammed in all other instances because fandom is irrational. While what Flyers fans, Cardinals fans, etc. did is disgusting, sweeping generalizations of an entire group of people based on the actions of a few is what in other terms would be called "racism" or "sexism" or any of a number of other synonyms. Why in a sports context is this acceptable?

My sentiments of distrust and anger towards Philly sports teams and their fans has cooled as I have grown older, which means my own reaction to last night is vastly different than it would have been if I was younger. Maybe that misplaced anger and those frayed nerves have shifted to other groups of fans, but I still regret what I used to do and how I used to color an entire group of people wrongly because of the actions of a few lone wolves. There are plenty of Philly fans who would have thrown bracelets onto the ice that weren't at Wells Fargo Center last night, and plenty of fans at the rink who walked out in despair because of what they witnessed. What we shouldn't do is moralize and condemn an entire group of people because of this, because fandom comes in all different shapes, sizes and forms and some people take it too far.

While it may be easy to judge an entire group of people based on the actions of a few, we need to attempt to act rationally to prevent that. It's no doubt difficult, just like it is for those who wore the same Ed Snider shirts as those who threw solid objects at an injured player to accept what they've seen. Fandom isn't rational, and trying to rationalize irrationality only bring about more irrationality.

Such is sports, such is fandom.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

2016 Stanley Cup Playoff Predictions

Time for the predictions that are sure to backfire, and every year they always seem to. Difference is this year my team is in it somehow. Rare is the time when the Florida Panthers are in the playoffs and I attempt to be unbiased in my picks. So let's see how 2016 goes...

Eastern Conference:

FLA over NYI in 6
TB over DET in 6
PIT over NYR in 5
WSH over PHI in 7

TB over FLA in 6 (I assume Stamkos and Stralman magically get healthy by the time this series comes around)
PIT over WSH in 7

Conference Finals:
PIT over TB in 6

Western Conference:

DAL over MIN in 4
CHI over STL in 6
LA over SJ in 6
ANA over NSH in 6

DAL over CHI in 6
LA over ANA in 6

Conference Finals:
LA over DAL in 5

2016 Stanley Cup Finals: Penguins over Kings in 6

Conn Smythe Winner: Sidney Crosby