| AP Sports Writer
The National Hockey League will be returning to ESPN beginning next season.
The two sides have reached agreement on a seven-year contract that includes four Stanley Cup Finals, people familiar with the deal told The Associated Press. They spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the contract has not been finalized.
ESPN and the NHL had no comment. The deal was first reported by SportsNet in Canada.
NBC is in the final season of a 10-year contract worth $2 billion that gives it national NHL rights, but the league will air on multiple networks in its next agreement.
ESPN started airing NHL games when it went on the air in 1979 by making deals with individual teams. It had the national NHL rights from 1985-88 and 1992-2004.
NBC has aired games since 2005 and is still among the bidders for the other part of the deal, which includes three Stanley Cup Finals.
Most of NBC’s games air on NBC Sports Network, but that channel is being shut down by the end of the year. Most of NBCSN’s events are being shifted to USA Network.
Fox Sports and CBS are also likely to put in bids. Fox had NHL rights from 1995-99. Where all three networks stand could become clearer after the NFL’s television rights are finalized.
NBC’s deal with the English Premier League, which expires at the end of next season, is also up for renewal.
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.