The NHL has a long history on ESPN, with games airing there from 1980-82, 1985-88, and 1992-2004. Since that time, the league has been on NBC and Versus/NBCSN in addition to its own NHL Network, and the ten-year extension of the NBC/NBCSN deal in 2011 means rights won’t come up until after the 2020-21 season. But there’s been a lot of talk amongst NHL fans over the years about how games should be on ESPN in order to grow the sport. And that was especially true during the era where the NHL got little attention on ESPN studio shows and SportsCenter and was described as “not translating to a national discussion” in 2012 by then-ESPN executive Vince Doria, which many attributed to them not having rights.

ESPN has shown more interest in hockey lately, though, hiring the likes of Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski (of course, those moves came after they laid off a ton of prominent NHL writers, including Pierre LeBrun and Scott Burnside), doing more hockey segments on SportsCenter, airing the World Cup of Hockey, and even simulcasting TSN’s trade deadline coverage this year (the whole thing will be streamed, two hours of coverage will air on ESPN2). They will also be offering some NHL games through their upcoming over-the-top ESPN Plus product.

But the even more notable discussion may be about if ESPN might someday have some NHL TV rights again. SportsCenter anchor, college hockey play-by-play voice. and noted hockey fan John Buccigross told BSN Denver last summer “I’m real optimistic that we’ll be a part of the NHL plan next time,“ and that’s starting to look less and less far-fetched. ESPN certainly seems likely to be involved on the streaming side, and the chances of them getting involved on the TV side appear on the rise too.

The key question there may be if the NHL and/or NBC are open to a split package. It seems highly unlikely that ESPN and/or ABC would offer a bid for exclusive NHL rights that would be acceptable to the league, considering the commitments they already have to the NBA through 2024-25. The overlap of the NHL and the NBA seasons would make it incredibly difficult for ESPN/ABC to be the sole NHL broadcaster in the U.S., especially when it came to the playoffs.