ESPN NHL
Photo: ESPN

Today, it was just announced that ESPN and the NHL have agreed to a long-term broadcast deal. What does that mean for hockey fans? Per ESPN, fans will see: 25 regular-season games on ESPN or ABC, early-round playoff series and one conference final each year, four Stanley Cup Final series on ABC and more than 1,000 games per season streaming on ESPN+. ESPN+ and Hulu will be home to 75 ESPN-produced exclusive telecasts per season.

The agreement also includes opening-night games, the NHL All-Star Game and Skills Challenge among other special events. The NHL’s out-of-market streaming package (NHL.TV) is also moving to ESPN+ as part of its subscription offerings.

International rights in Latin America, the Caribbean and parts of Europe are also part of the agreement, as are extensive highlight rights for ESPN’s digital platforms.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also said this about the deal: “Not only will this groundbreaking, seven-year deal enable the NHL to benefit from the incomparable power, reach and influence of The Walt Disney Company and ABC/ESPN, it sets a new standard in delivering our game to the most passionate and tech-savvy fans in sports in the ways they now demand and on the platforms they use.”

ESPN+ currently has more than 12 million subscribers, according to ESPN. Hulu has 39.4 million.

The first NHL game on ESPN appeared on Dec. 19, 1979 — a little more than three months after the network premiered. ESPN continued to produce NHL content for the next nine years. After a hiatus, the network became the home for the NHL from 1992 to 2004.

Since then, all games have aired on NBC or its cable properties.

Why should Fans Be Excited For The ESPN Deal?

Way back when ESPN had hockey on their network (from 1992-2004), Gary Thorne was always in the play-by-play booth as the lead announcer.  Widely regarded as one of the best, his take on hockey would be a refreshing experience.  Rather than having fans annoyed by apparent bias, Thorne would offer a perspective on hockey that fans have been missing for a long time.

The news gets better. The Score reports that he would be open to talk to ESPN about it, saying:

“I’d love to talk to them about it,” Thorne told The Athletic’s Richard Deitsch.

He added: “I’d love to talk about it with ESPN and see what direction they’re going to take with it, what the schedule is going to look like, all of that. But from the primary foundational question of, ‘Is that something that interests me?’ Yes, it does.”

Thorne has worked for MLB’s Baltimore Orioles for the last 14 seasons but was told over the offseason he wouldn’t be returning to the club. The timing of his availability and ESPN’s NHL venture has some hockey fans calling for his return online.

This could be the revitalization of hockey popularity as we know it – or at the very least, better announcing.

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