By Stu Hackel
[UPDATE: ESPN and the KHL finalized their agreement and announced their early schedule on Friday.]
Hold on hockey fans. We have another non-deal...at least for the moment.
We reported on Tuesday -- as did just about everyone who covers hockey and the NHL lockout -- that the KHL had announced an agreement for the broadcast of its games over the ESPN3 channel, which is available in more than 73 million U.S. households, and mostly streamed online. The excitement here at Red Light was palpable. Live hockey and it was starting today! We were all set to fire up the computer and catch Alex Ovechkin and his Dynamo Moscow mates take on Ak Bars Kazan with former Penguin Alexei Morozov, and then enjoy a daily game starting on Saturday and running through Tuesday, as announced by the KHL in their early schedule.
But no listings of these games have appeared on any of ESPN's webpages, there was no quote from anyone at ESPN in the KHL's press release, and when we looked for the Dynamo-Ak Bars tilt on ESPN3, what we saw was a soccer game between youth players from FC Barcelona and VfL Wolfsburg.
We contacted ESPN and a spokeswoman sent along this statement: "We can confirm that we have reached an agreement in principle to bring some KHL coverage to fans in the UK (on ESPN) and in the US (on ESPN3). However, details of a deal and specific coverage plans are not yet solidified. We will share more schedule details as soon as possible."
The spokeswoman added that ESPN hoped the deal would be concluded by the end of the week but confirmed that the Dynamo-Ak Bars game would not be seen, the entire schedule has yet to be determined, and we should disregard the games that the KHL trumpeted on Tuesday.
The KHL's announcement was, to say the least, a bit premature. The league has yet to respond to our request for comment, so it's uncertain if this snafu was the result of a miscommunication or some over-eagerness on KHL's part.
Examining ESPN's statement, it's apparent that what has yet to be nailed down is more than just the slate of games that the network will show. The phrase "details of a deal" implies that some of the business arrangements remain to be agreed upon.
With an "agreement in principle," the KHL and ESPN are, at least, much further along in their negotiations than the NHL and NHLPA, but for the moment, there are obviously some important specifics to be settled. So until they are, we won't be seeing any KHL games on any ESPN platform. Maybe this weekend or next week. But for lockout-starved fans, their hope of watching some live hockey with elite players on a Wednesday afternoon was just a cruel tease.