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The NHL heads Outdoors

Apparantly, ESPN doesn't believe in a national TV market for the NHL, and based on past experience, perhaps they're right. Hockey has always relied more on strong local markets, rather than a national presence, to build its fanbase and that is likely to continue in the years ahead. The league will have enough of a job to win back local fans, let alone worry about a wider audience.

For most fans, the move of national games to the Outdoor Life Network won't be a big deal - local games aren't affected, and most of the small ESPN audience has access to OLN as well. Where hockey fans might well win is if OLN invests in the NHL, as Comcast builds a potential rival to ESPN in the sports TV market. That could mean special events (more outdoor games?), new on-air talent (bring on Don Cherry!), or a host of other changes to help grow hockey in the US (just not the glowing puck, please).

The most interesting thing to watch for in the coming weeks is who OLN brings in to handle the on-air duties. ESPN had improved their hockey telecasts remarkably over the past few years, and hopefully we won't go back to square one over at OLN.