Whether you loved or hated the longstanding relationship that the NHL had with NBC Sports, it was always easy to know which channel to tune to when there was a nationally televised game on that night. NBCSN, formerly Versus and before that the Outdoor Life Network, will be shutting down at the end of the year in part because NBC Sports decided earlier this year to go a radically different direction when it comes to their live sports properties. After 16 seasons, NBC decided to end their relationship with the NHL and with that, a new era of hockey on TV will begin this week with the start of the 2021-22 NHL regular season.
Over the summer the NHL signed seven year deals with ESPN and Turner Sports to broadcast its games both on traditional broadcast television and, new this year, exclusive streaming broadcasts. While there will be plenty of games that will air on ESPN, ABC and TNT this year, the biggest change for hockey fans will be exclusive game broadcasts on ESPN+, ESPN's subscription streaming service, and Hulu.
ESPN+ has deals with the UFC, the MLS, golf and many college sports conferences, however the NHL deal might be its biggest addition since it launched three years ago. Every out-of-market NHL game will be available at no extra charge to ESPN+ subscribers. In addition to those 1,000+ games, 75 games will be available exclusively on ESPN+ and Hulu, beginning with the Minnesota Wild season opener on Friday night against the Anaheim Ducks. That game, along with the 74 others, will be produced by ESPN and will only be available to subscribers of ESPN+.
This means that if you want to watch the Wild on Friday, along with the four other games this season that will be broadcast on ESPN+/Hulu, you will need to pay for a subscription to either of those services. While some may not be happy about having to pay for another subscription service to watch their home team's games, others may find the $6.99/month cost of ESPN+ to be reasonable with the out-of-market games factored in.
To be clear, any Wild game broadcast locally on Bally Sports North and nationally on TNT will not be available to ESPN+/Hulu subscribers in Minnesota due to blackout restrictions. By the way, there appears to be no end in sight to the negotiations between BSN's owner Sinclair and the various streaming providers, so fans will most likely need to pay for traditional television providers to watch the 69 games that will be on BSN this year unless something big changes during the season.
In addition to the five ESPN+/Hulu games, the Wild will have its first of five TNT games in November. There will also be a couple of games broadcast on the ESPN network this year along with a late season appearance on ABC. This is all new and exciting, though it will almost certainly confuse and frustrate many fans early on as they get adjusted to the new TV and streaming situation. I am sure Michael Russo and other beat writers around the country can hardly wait to get flooded with tweets asking how to watch the games this season.
Finally, it should be noted that Wild games this season will be broadcast, as per usual, on KFAN FM 100.3 in the Twin Cities and everywhere else in the world on the iHeartRadio app for free!