This past Tuesday, fans got to watch the first live hockey game since the NHL playoffs. It was a breath of fresh air for people who have been craving the viewing pleasure of grown men ramming each other into glass and skating up and down the ice at lightning speed.
Plot twist: it was a Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) game. In the stead of the NHL lockout, ESPN2 will broadcast KHL games from Russia, giving fans the option of seeing players like Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin and Boston’s Zdeno Chara.
I hope that having the KHL broadcast on ESPN2 is something that lights a fire under both sides of the lockout. If it doesn’t, there’s a lot for hockey fans to worry about.
First, if I were the NHL, I would be embarrassed to see the league that’s considered my biggest competition for top-tier players getting airtime on any ESPN affiliate. It was only several years ago that the KHL was considered a serious threat to the NHL. The possibility of players going over there to play wasn’t just a minor concern; it was something players like Ovechkin did have in mind, especially after the question of whether NHL players should be allowed to play in the Sochi 2014 Olympics was raised.
The NHL is happy with the contract they have with NBC, and the coverage on NBC Sports hasn’t received the backlash that the coverage on Versus (remember that nightmare?) did. However, the NHL would probably benefit from being on ESPN now. There’s currently enough star power to fill a galaxy in the league, which is something you didn’t see when the NHL was regularly being shown on ESPN. ESPN broadcasters could have field days with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Steven Stamkos skating around. I’d rather that than having to listen to Mike Milbury all the time (sorry to throw the shade, but it had to be done).
Seeing the KHL on ESPN2 should hopefully get some sort of talks rolling. What the NHL has to realize at this point is that there are other options to watch and follow hockey now that weren’t around during the last lockout. The KHL has been made accessible to North American audiences, and college hockey starts within the next week. College hockey is broadcasted more, and Twitter makes it easier for people who aren’t die-hard hockey fans or students at hockey schools like University of Wisconsin or Boston College to follow it.
NHL fans will find something to fall back on to fulfill their hockey needs. The NHL will become like that ex who you get over quicker than you thought. Your heart suffers a little and there’s a pang of loneliness every now and then. But you move on, and the ex is the one who ultimately misses out because they don’t realize how good they had it.
The NHL is the only one missing out now. However, it may not be for long. Wiley Books author Rob Simpson said in a recent tweet that a source close to ownership told him games will possibly be back by mid-November. I’m not really optimistic, but still.