ESPN National Hockey Night was ESPN's weekly television broadcasts of National Hockey League regular season games and coverage of playoff games, broadcast from 1992 to 2004. ESPN had been slated to broadcast games for the 2004–05 NHL season, but the season's cancellation combined with the NHL reaching an agreement with OLN (now Versus) to broadcast games for the 2005–06 NHL season effectively ended National Hockey Night after the 2003–04 NHL season.
1980–1982 and 1985–1988Edit
ESPN initially and previously covered the NHL in 1980-82. They had a rather limited slate of games, which were all broadcast from U.S. arenas: Hartford, Washington, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Minnesota, St. Louis and Colorado in 1980–81 and the New York Islanders (while deleting Hartford) in 1981–82. ESPN covered a selected amount of playoff games in 1982. They covered Game 4 of the New York Islanders-Pittsburgh series and Game 2 of the Minnesota-Chicago series. Sam Rosen and Mickey Redmond were commentators for both games.
ESPN would next broadcast the NHL in 1985–86, taking over from USA in the American national cable television rights. ESPN aired approximately 33 weekly (Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time), nationally televised (subject to blackout) regular season games a year (as well as the All-Star Game and entire Stanley Cup Finals). Mike Emrick and Bill Clement served as the main broadcast team for the network's national game broadcasts, while regionally distributed games were handled by a variety of announcers.. ESPN would ultimately go on another hiatus (lasting through the end of the 1991–92 season) from the NHL following the 1987–88 season, when SportsChannel America outbid them.
From its debut in 1992 until the 2001–02 NHL season, weekly regular season games were broadcast on Sundays (between NFL and baseball seasons), Wednesdays, and Fridays, and were titled Sunday/Wednesday/Friday Night Hockey. Prior to the 1999, these telecasts were non-exclusive, meaning they were blacked out in the regions of the competing teams, and an alternate game was shown in these affected areas. Beginning in 1999–2000 season, ESPN was permitted two exclusive telecasts per team per season.
When ESPN started broadcasting NBA games on Wednesday and Friday nights in 2002, the weekly hockey broadcasts were moved to Thursday and the broadcasts renamed to Thursday Night Hockey. Beginning in 1993–94, up to 5 games per week were also shown on ESPN2.
During the Stanley Cup playoffs, ESPN and ESPN2 provided almost nightly coverage, often carrying games on both channels simultaneously. Games in the first 2 rounds were non-exclusive, while telecasts in the Conference Finals and Finals were exclusive (except in 1993 and 1994), and ESPN will always televise Games 1 and 2 of Stanley Cup Finals, and Games 3-7 will always televise on ABC.
|Date||Network||Teams||Start times (All times Eastern)||Commentator crews|
|2/5/95||ESPN||Pittsburgh at New Jersey||7:30 p.m.||Gary Thorne and Bill Clement|
|3/19/95||ESPN||Boston at New Jersey||8 p.m.||Gary Thorne and Bill Clement|
|3/22/95||ESPN2||New Jersey at N.Y. Rangers||7:30 p.m.||Gary Thorne and Bill Clement|
|4/1/95||ESPN2||Montreal at New Jersey||7:30 p.m.||Gary Thorne and Bill Clement|
|4/26/95||ESPN2||Pittsburgh at New Jersey||7:30 p.m.|
OLN/Versus replaces ESPNEdit
Before the 2004–05 lockout, the NHL had reached two separate deals with NBC and ESPN. ESPN offered NHL $60 million for about 40 games (15 of 40 games would be during the regular season), all on ESPN2, with presumably, only some midweek playoff games, the first 2 games of the Stanley Cup Final and the All-Star Game airing on ESPN. The NBC deal stipulated that the network would pay the league no rights fees - an unheard of practice to that point. NBC's deal included six regular season windows, 7 postseason broadcasts and Games 3–7 of the Stanley Cup Finals in prime-time.
ESPN had a 2 year deal that they opted out of after the lockout, leaving NHL without a cable partner. In August 2005, Comcast (who owns the Philadelphia Flyers) paid $70 million a year for three years to put games (54 or more NHL games each season under the agreement, generally on Monday and Tuesday nights) on the OLN network, now known as Versus. Due to the abbreviated off-season, the 2005–06 schedule did not offer OLN exclusivity, which they received in 2006–07. Versus will also cover the playoffs and will exclusively air Games 1 and 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals, the consequence was that except for 2006-2008 when NBC televise Games 3-7. Perhaps, Games 1, 2, and 5-7 will always televise on NBC, and Games 3-4 televise on Versus and NBCSN.
- ESPN NHL Hockey Night MP3 theme
- Okay, Let’s Talk About This Like Adults: “How ESPN Nearly Destroyed the NHL on TV” or “Why the NHL Should Never Go Back to ESPN”
- Negative Press: Is ESPN Killing the National Hockey League by Influencing Public Attitudes?
- Jack Edwards says ESPN boosting NHL's fortunes is 'delusional'
- NHL on ESPN - Google Search (timeline)
- The Suitor Tutor, Part 2: The ESPN Question