The National Hockey League has had a rough road back to national relevancy and yesterday they may have finally made it.  The League and NBC Sports Group/Versus signed a 10-year, $2 Billion national TV rights contract.

For hockey fans its basically more of the same.  Versus, which is now part of the NBC Sports Group, will still be the national cable home for the NHL, while NBC will remain the broadcast home.

There are improvements though.  Each network will add games to the schedule and national cover of the play-off will start in the conference semifinals and not the conference finals.  They will also be covering every single playoff game on a national level on one of the many NBC channels.

The networks will split the Stanley Cup finals (games 1,2,5,6,7 on NBC, games 3,4 on Versus).  Versus will continue to broadcast the NHL All-Star Game, Premiere games in Europe at the start of the season and the Heritage Classic and up the regular season games to 100, about 3 per week.

NBC will also start broadcasting more regular season games including the Winter Classic, starting on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

The NBC/Versus deal beat out options from FOX, Turner and ESPN.

The biggest complaint coming from hockey fans wit the deal is why would the league not go to ESPN with the multiple channel options and massive boost in exposer even if its for less money?  While the question may be valid, it doesn’t holds much weight in the long run.

The NHL would be an afterthought on ESPN, fighting for time with the NFL, MLB, NBA and college hoops and football.  Reportedly the deal would have televised one game per week on ESPN2.  Why would the NHL want that.

Versus and more recently NBC have made the NHL a priority and done a great job in marketing the game.  While ESPN provides greater exposure as far as casual viewers go, they wouldn’t drop everything for the NHL.  ABC will not be replacing NBA games with the NHL.

NBC, which is in the process of rebranding Versus, has to make the NHL the foundation of its sport’s broadcasting empire because aside from a handful of NFL games, Notre Dame football, some lower level college football and some MMA, they have nothing else.

The NHL is also showing some loyalty.  Versus and NBC saved the NHL after their lock out when no one wanted to partner with the fledgling league.  

This is a great move for the NHL and NBC and only good things can come of this.