Heads up, hockey fans! The puck drops on the 2021-2022 NHL season starting Tuesday and we cannot wait. As Mario Lemieux famously said, “Every day is a great day for hockey,” and that definitely applies to tonight’s season-opening doubleheader. In the first game, at 7:30 p.m. ET (4:30 p.m. PT), the Tampa Bay Lightning raise their Stanley Cup championship banner before facing the Pittsburgh Penguins. In the second game the NHL’s newest team, the Seattle Kraken, visit the Vegas Golden Knights at 10 p.m. ET (7 p.m. PT). Both games are on ESPN and streaming on ESPN Plus. NHL 2021 opening night: Schedule, how to watch and stream hockey without cable
The NHL is back, so it’s time to pull on your team’s sweater and start streaming.
Lots of changes are coming this season on the ice. The Kraken feature a collection of players snatched away from their former teams during this summer’s expansion draft. They join the Western Conference as the NHL returns to its pre-pandemic alignment of two Western Conference divisions (the Pacific and the Central) along with two Eastern Conference divisions (the Metropolitan and the Atlantic). Teams will play a full 82-game season and the top three teams from each division make the playoffs, while the rest duke it out for two wild-card spots per conference.
How to watch the games at home is also changing. Disney (ABC, ESPN and Hulu) and Turner Sports (TNT, TBS) will share coverage of the NHL beginning this season, and games will no longer appear on NBC networks.
TNT will broadcast 50 NHL games, including the outdoor Winter Classic, Stadium Series and Heritage Classic. They will also air half of the Stanley Cup playoffs. ESPN or ABC will air 25 games along with half of the playoffs and all of the Stanley Cup Finals, while ESPN Plus and Hulu will stream 75 exclusive matchups. The NHL’s out-of-market streaming service, formerly known as NHL.TV, moves to ESPN Plus for no extra charge.
So what does all this mean for hockey fans desperately looking to stream their team’s games? The good news is that you don’t need cable to watch hockey this year, but it still might be the easiest and cheapest choice depending on where you live.
Live TV streaming services vs. cable
Die-hard sports fans are beholden to regional sports networks, or RSNs, that carry the majority of the games for their local team. These RSNs are usually included in local cable packages, so most cable subscribers never have to worry about gaining access to the broadcasts on these channels: They can simply turn on the TV and watch the game.
Cord-cutting hockey fans have a tougher path. Because of rights agreements, most live TV streaming services like YouTube TV or Hulu with Live TV don’t carry many RSNs. DirecTV Stream is the exception. It has nearly every RSN, particularly the Bally Sports channels (formerly Fox Sports) offered by Sinclair, but you’ll need to spring for its $85-a-month plan.
Those looking to just get ESPN Plus to watch their local team’s games will also be out of luck. RSNs have broadcast exclusivity in the region that they cover, meaning that the only way to watch the Flyers in Philadelphia, for example, is to get a service that has the local RSN, namely NBC Sports Philadelphia.
Services like ESPN Plus use IP addresses to block out games in viewers’ regions — you’ll just get a black screen saying that the game is blacked out if you’re trying to watch, for example, a Rangers game in New York that is airing on MSG. ESPN Plus is ideal for those who want to follow one or more of the teams based in cities other than their own, aka out-of-market teams, but for local fans it’s not as useful.
Ultimately, depending on location, getting a cable subscription that includes ESPN, TNT and the local RSN(s) might actually be cheaper and easier than streaming — especially if it’s bundled with the home internet you’ll likely be getting anyway.
ESPN Plus ($7 a month)
Carries all out-of-market games, plus up to 75 exclusive games (blackout restrictions apply)
Whether or not you have cable, ESPN’s standalone streaming service is great for casual fans and is a must-have accessory for the zealots. It costs $7 a month or $70 a year and shows all out-of-market games along with up to 75 exclusive ESPN-produced telecasts per year. The catch is that your local team’s games are blacked out when they appear on ESPN Plus. Nevertheless, this is a huge savings for long-time NHL.TV users, as the all-access package used to cost subscribers $145 a year.
Even better for hockey fans, ESPN Plus just reached a deal to show 130 Kontinental Hockey League games — Russia’s top hockey league — including the playoffs and the Gagarin Cup finals. This is on top of ESPN’s NCAA college hockey coverage. That’s a lot of hockey for a little more than half the price of the old NHL.TV package.
Of course, Disney is also planning to show exclusive games on Hulu, so the $13.99 a month Disney bundle might end up being an even better buy for hockey fans who also love TV and Disney/Marvel/Star Wars content.
See at ESPN Plus
DirecTV Stream: Best for fans of the local team at $85
For those determined to watch their local hockey team without a cable or satellite TV subscription, a live TV streaming service is the best bet. While it is pricey, DirecTV Stream is the best option for most people, particularly those where the local games air on Bally Sports networks.
Below is a chart of all of the NHL teams in the United States and their corresponding RSNs.
Note: None of the (US-based) services carry the RSNs for the Canadian hockey teams. That means fans of the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Winnipeg Jets, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks need to use ESPN Plus to watch all the games that are not either on your local RSN or on a US national broadcast.
Some key takeaways:
The RSNs above are typically only available to local subscribers. Refer to the individual service’s details below to find out if you live in a place where you can receive a particular RSN.
DirecTV Stream’s $85-a-month Choice package includes all of the RSNs for hockey with the exception of NBC Sports Philadelphia. Flyers fans hoping to catch a glimpse of Gritty will have to look elsewhere.
They could jump over to FuboTV, Hulu Plus Live TV or YouTube TV which all carry NBC Sports Philadelphia, but fans of other teams will mostly be out of luck. FuboTV only offers 12 RSNs for hockey, while Hulu Plus Live TV and YouTube TV only have four. Sling TV doesn’t offer a single RSN.
One other note: If you don’t recognize the name of some of these channels, don’t worry. As mentioned, the Fox Sports RSNs have been rebranded as Bally Sports, because the channels are no longer owned by Fox but Sinclair, which has since partnered with casino group Bally’s to rename them.
NHL Network: it’s still around, but costs extra and you probably don’t need it
The NHL Network, run by the league, is still available as a standalone station. This season the network will air 90 games that will be considered national for those out-of-market. This means that you will still be able to watch your local team play on your RSN, but viewers around the country will need the NHL Network in order to watch the game as it will be blacked out on ESPN Plus. Fans might be able to save some money if they are willing to miss out on the handful of games on the NHL Network.
The NHL Network is not included in many basic streaming services or cable packages and is not available at all on Hulu Plus Live TV and YouTube TV. If you want it, chances are you are going to pay extra for it.
Many cable and streaming services group NHL Network into a multi-network “sports bundle.” For example, Sling’s Sports Extra bundle costs $11 per month on top of a Sling Orange package and includes the NHL Network along with 13 other sports channels like NFL RedZone.
FuboTV includes the NHL Network in its $7.99 per month Fubo Extra package. This can be purchased alongside any of Fubo’s subscription offerings, though Fubo Extra is included in the $79.99 a month Elite streaming tier.
Lastly, Direct TV Stream users can only get the NHL Network if they subscribe to the $94.99 per month Ultimate or the $139.99 a month Premier package.
DirecTV Stream ($70, $85 or $95)
Carries ESPN, ABC, NHL Network, TBS, TNT and most RSNs
DirecTV Stream is expensive. It is the priciest of the five major live TV streaming services, but it’s also the one with the most RSNs. Its cheapest, $70-a-month Plus package includes ESPN, ABC, TNT, and TBS. You’ll need to move up to the $85-a-month Choice plan to get any available RSN. You can use its channel lookup tool to see which local channels and RSNs are available in your area. The NHL Network is available starting at the $95-a-month Ultimate package.
Best options for nationally broadcast games
Aside from DirecTV Stream, the odds are long that a live TV streaming service carries the RSN for your local team’s games, which makes the other four services better bets for watching nationally televised games.
Carries ESPN, ABC, NHL Network and 12 RSNs
FuboTV costs $65 per month and offers 12 RSNs for hockey. It also includes ESPN, but not TBS — which might be a problem for some hockey fans. But you can add the NHL Network for an extra $7 a month with the Fubo Extra Package or pay for the $79.99 a month Elite streaming tier which includes Fubo Extra. Check out which local networks and RSNs it offers here.
ouTube TV ($65)
Carries ESPN, ABC, TBS, TNT and 4 RSNs
YouTube TV costs $65 a month and offers four RSNs for hockey, along with all of the national broadcasts. However, it lacks the ability to get the NHL Network. Plug in your ZIP code on its welcome page to see which local networks and RSNs are available in your area.
Hulu Plus Live TV ($65)
Carries ESPN, ABC, TBS, TNT and 4 RSNs
Hulu Plus Live TV costs $65 a month and carries four RSNs for hockey along with ESPN, ABC,TBS, TNT, but not NHL Network. Click the “View all channels in your area” link at the bottom of its welcome page to see which local networks and RSNs are available where you live.
Sling TV ($35 or $50 per month)
Carries ESPN, TBS, TNT, and the NHL Network
Sling Blue currently lacks a single RSN to watch hockey. You can, however, use Sling to watch some national broadcasts. Sling TV’s Orange plan includes ESPN, and both plans offer TBS, but none of them give you access to ABC. The NHL Network is available as part of the Sports Extra add-on, which costs $11 a month for either the Blue or Orange plan or $15 for the combined Orange-and-Blue plan. The individual plans cost $35 a month each, and the Orange-and-Blue plan costs $50 a month. You can see which local channels you get here.
Each live TV streaming service offers a free trial, allows you to cancel anytime and requires a solid internet connection. Looking for more information? Check out our live TV streaming services guide.
But what if I live in hockey-obsessed Canada?
Oh Canadians, we know you love hockey and so does the NHL. That means that you are unable to participate in the league’s new deal with ESPN Plus. Instead, you will have to continue to pay more for a subscription to NHL Live for all of your out-of-market games. The service is offering an early bird pricing of $179.99, but expect that price to jump an additional $20 once the season starts.
NHL Live has a nifty tool that will help you figure out exactly what games are available in your region with your subscription.
Cord-cutters in Canada might also need Sportsnet NOW at $14.99 per month and TSN Direct at $19.99 per month to get their local games.