While the NHL lockout continues, hockey fans in the United States will still be able to watch many of their favorite stars play this winter because ESPN has agreed to a deal with the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL), according to a press release from the league:
The Kontinental Hockey League has reached an agreement with the US sports TV channel ESPN to broadcast games in the 2012/2013 KHL Championship. The games will be shown on the ESPN3 channel in the United States, Territories of the United States, and also in Great Britain.
The release also included the first set of games to be shown on ESPN3:
During the first decade of October, the channel will broadcast five KHL games. The planned schedule includes:
Dynamo Moscow vs Ak Bars on Oct. 3rd;
Lev vs SKA on Oct. 6th;
Slovan vs Dynamo Moscow on Oct. 7th;
CSKA vs SKA on Oct. 8th;
Lev vs Dynamo Moscow on Oct. 9th.
This is a massive victory for the KHL, one that could significantly boost their popularity and brand in the United States during the coming months. The longer the lockout goes, the more the KHL will benefit from this agreement.
How will this news affect the current NHL lockout? It's tough to tell right now, but the NHL will not want the KHL to increase its popularity too much in the United States because a strong rival hockey league is the last thing that commissioner Gary Bettman wants.
Since fans in the United States will be able to watch their favorite NHL stars in an exciting league such as the KHL through ESPN3, if the lockout lasts an entire year, fans will still be able to watch good hockey. As a result, the NHL's product could become a little less important to fans.
The NHLPA could tell the owners that if they aren't willing to make a fair CBA, many players will just compete in the KHL for as long as needed. Most of their fans will be able to watch them thanks to ESPN, which is a competitor with the league's current national television rights holder, the NBC Sports Group.
ESPN hasn't broadcast NHL games since the 2003-04 season, but this is a great way for them to promote their ESPN3 channel, which is available via the Internet on your computer and devices such as mobile phones and tablets.
The KHL's deal with ESPN will help NHL fans get through the current lockout. It will also allow the players to compete in a strong league while getting good exposure in the United States through a popular medium in ESPN3.
All of this is bad news for the NHL and its owners, who now have a league that hockey fans might be able to live without for a bit while the KHL begins its new deal with ESPN.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. He was also the organization's on-site reporter for the 2011 Stanley Cup Final in Boston. Follow him on Twitter.