The tenuous relationship with ESPN and the NHL just got a new wrinkle.
In a deal announced early Tuesday morning, the American broadcaster has signed on to show KHL games featuring locked out NHL players regularly on its airwaves, with ESPN3 picking up five KHL games in the next two weeks alone.
It's a curious move for a network that has largely shunned hockey ever since ending its broadcast agreement with the NHL nearly a decade ago, but a sign that there may in fact be some value in showing games featuring its players during the lockout.
"The games will be broadcast in the United States and U.S. territories, as well as in the United Kingdom, on the ESPN3 channel, which is available in more than 73 million U.S. households," the KHL said in a release. "ESPN3 features more than 3,500 live broadcasts per year, including NCAA football and basketball, NBA, MLB, ICC and FIFA soccer games and related content."
So far, there hasn't been a similar announcement from either TSN, Sportsnet or CBC in this country, although that appears to be simply be a matter of time. The Canadian networks are already picking up far more AHL content than ever before and are in negotiations to supplement that with other hockey programming like the KHL.
The biggest issue with showing KHL games is same problem hockey runs into at the Winter Olympics: the time change. A 7 p.m. game in Moscow would be starting at 11 a.m. in Toronto, and that's one of the more favourable time zones in the league.
Who will watch a game played in Khabarovsk, where the time change is nearly 12 hours?
That's probably a pretty tough draw.
Here are the first five games ESPN plans to show beginning later this week, which will feature three appearances by Alex Ovechkin with his hometown team:
Dynamo Moscow vs. Ak Bars Kazan on Oct. 3rd
Lev Praha vs. SKA St. Petersburg on Oct. 6th
Slovan Bratislava vs. Dynamo Moscow on Oct. 7th
CSKA Moscow vs. SKA St. Petersburg on Oct. 8th
Lev Praha vs. Dynamo Moscow on Oct. 9th