NHL-to-ESPN Rumors Are Just Rumors
According to ESPN spokesman Josh Krulewitz, there are no immediate plans to bring the NHL to ESPN. That means that, as of now, there is no major carrier lined up to broadcast NHL games next season, as the NHL's deal with NBC expires after this season. Versus will continue to carry games, but while their NHL package is better than given credit for, it isn't ideal for the league's top television exposure to be filtered through the still somewhat obscure network.
NBC might choose to re-up with the league for another year in order to cash in on Olympic synergy, since the network will be broadcasting the proceedings from Vancouver. Longer-term, however, the league needs to find a TV partner. Luckily, it has one ace in the hole in the Winter Classic, which makes buying TV rights for the sport a little more appealing.
There have been rumors for years that ESPN would get back into the NHL game, but those rumors have yet to materialize. The Worldwide Leader carried NHL games from 1992 through 2004 and was slated to continue until the 2004-2005 season was wiped out by the lockout. ESPN declined an option in the two post-lockout seasons to continue broadcasting games, opening the door for Versus, a deal which has been the source of ridicule in the sports world. A deal with ESPN would return a lot of credibility to the NHL, which is slowly building a young core of marketable stars and seeing attendance increase.