BUT. Would an ESPN deal (which was reportedly rejected) be the best for the game of hockey? Look at the biggest event in the NHL besides the Cup, the Winter Classic. It gets better ratings than anything else on in the same time slot and gets tons of coverage, including a whole documentary on HBO. Turns out it was an NBC invention. ESPN didn't do anything for the game, besides add to the ozone hole thanks to Barry Melrose's hair. (ESPN also decided to air poker instead of key NHL games. I mean, who wouldn't want to watch creepy guys playing cards for three hours?)
And so what if hockey is on ESPN. Based on the coverage it gave at the tail end of the last contract, fans can live without it. There is no doubt ESPN will still give too much coverage to Mel Vampire Jr. and his stupid draft talk, WNBA basketball, soccer, and the X-Games. Yeah, there might not be as much hockey coverage on SportsCenter, but in reality, SportsCenter is so watered down that it doesn't really matter. So what if Crosby doesn't make the Top 10 plays because footage of a cat running across Fenway was chosen? Nine times out of ten, cats running across playing fields will get airtime, even if the NHL is under contract. The NHL will have to fit in between all the other sports that the network covers, while Verses can exclusively offer one sport.
And there are rumors that Versus will eventually become the NBC Sports Network next year, which is designed to go head to head with ESPN. And the NHL will be the main attraction (that sounds sort of scary). Also, there is a better chance that NHL players will be in the 2014 Olympics if NBC has the NHL rights, since they also have the Olympic TV rights. And we all know how exciting Olympic hockey is, despite Crosby.
The NHL doesn't need ESPN to survive. It has gotten terrific ratings while on NBC since the lockout and the game has grown despite the complaints towards NBC. Getting on ESPN is not some sort of magic bullet that will make hockey the new football. Hockey will probably always be a niche sport and it will be treated as such on ESPN (just like in the past). Yes, Versus needs to relax with the bullfighting, cage fighting and fishing shows that no one watches and maybe add some real sports. And sure, they might want to fire Pierre. Yeah, they should probably work on creating a better schedule that doesn't feature Chicago, Detroit or Pittsburgh every single game. . But putting the NHL on ESPN will only mean hockey is lost in the shuffle, between college bowling and darts.