Gary Bettman recently mentioned that, after coming back from the strike, going with a network other than ESPN was the best choice for the NHL. It seems like a fairly asinine statement, but really, when you break it down, he may be right. Was the NHL right not to go to ESPN after the strike?
ESPN has so many offerings that they can typically offer only a game or two of the various sports every week. ESPN, driven by their need for more market shares, typically has their go to teams, like the Yankees, Red Sox, or Lakers who they try to cycle into the rotation. Versus, a smaller network, is somewhat more at the mercy of the league, who is then able to get more teams on air over the course of the season. Additionally, Versus has been able to air some games for Canadian teams, which ESPN would possibly be reluctant to do in the States.
Additionally, the league wouldn't be able to prove it's value independently as they have on Versus, generating record attendence (despite the Coyotes or Panthers). Would the same be said if they were constantly relegated to ESPN2 in favor of the NBA, like the MLS has been? Would the Caps/Pens game 7 tonight have been the premiere game on the Network like it was on Versus, or would it have been trumped by the Mavericks-Nuggets NBA snoozer?
Now, however, with the NHL drumming up more support and more revenue, they hold a few more cards. The perfect solution would be one where Versus gets to keep their two games, but ESPN gets a game of the week as well, much like the NBA does with ESPN and TNT. Many teams on TV in front of many eyes can't be a bad thing.
Barry Melrose will make it happen.