NHL games returning to ESPN for 2021-22 season after 16 years apart

By | March 10, 2021

The NHL is returning to ESPN.

The league and the U.S.-based TV station have agreed to a seven-year deal beginning in 2021-22 through the 2027-28 season, ESPN announced on Wednesday.

Here are the details from the joint press release:

The visionary, first-of-its-kind agreement brings the NHL back to Disney and ESPN platforms and illustrates the unique position of The Walt Disney Company to bring the best hockey in the world to millions across its unparalleled collection of media platforms.

It is highlighted by: exclusive coverage of the Stanley Cup Final on ABC in four of the seven years of the agreement, with the ability to simulcast/megacast on ESPN+ and additional ESPN networks; the return of live NHL action to ESPN networks with 25 exclusive national regular-season games on ABC or ESPN; 75 national regular-season games per season produced by ESPN that will stream exclusively on both ESPN+ and Hulu; half of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on ABC and ESPN each season; and coverage annually of NHL’s Face-off (opening night games), the NHL All-Star Game and Skills Challenge, plus other NHL special events each season.

The new deal will also include a daily NHL highlights show featuring Linda Cohn and Barry Melrose. ESPN said it will announce plans for additional studio programming at a later date.

While the financial terms are unknown at this time, NBC — currently the NHL’s broadcast rights-holder — pays $200 million a year to broadcast NHL games. The contract expires after this season. It wasn’t clear if NBC will enter into a renewed agreement to share NHL rights with ESPN going forward. A second broadcaster has yet to be announced.

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ESPN was the home of the NHL from 1992 to 2004, with some of the biggest broadcast names calling games. That includes current “Monday Night Football” play-by-play announcer Steve Levy, Gary Thorne, Jack Edwards and the late Dave Strader. Analysts included Darren Pang, Bill Clement, Brian Engblom and current NBC analyst Eddie Olcyzk.

Due to the 2004-05 NHL lockout that resulted in the entire season being lost, ESPN did not pick up its option for 2005-06 for $60 million.

“Tonight, we informed the NHL that we did not accept their final contract offer,” ESPN and ABC Sports president George Bodenheimer said in a 2005 statement. “We worked very hard to build and sustain our relationship with the league and would have liked to continue. However, given the prolonged work stoppage and the league’s TV ratings history, no financial model even remotely supports the contract terms offered.”

The league moved over to Comcast’s Outdoor Life Network — which then became Versus and then NBC Sports Network — after they agreed to a three-year deal worth more than $200 million.

Today, ESPN has expanded coverage of the league on ESPN+ with the airing of games and NHL-related shows. There has been no word if “NHL 2Night” — the popular daily NHL-oriented show that was hosted by John Buccigross and included analysts Barry Melrose, Ray Ferraro and E.J. Hradek — would return. Fans are regardless salivating at the idea.

Reaction on Twitter was also positive regarding the news of ESPN and the NHL reuniting: