NHL renews Center Ice, channel near

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NEW YORK -- The National Hockey League announced the renewal of its Center Ice premium package with cable and satellite operators as the NHL neared a decision later this week to launch an NHL channel.

The deals for Center Ice are with DirecTV, Dish Network and iN Demand, the buying partner for big MSOs Comcast, Cox and Time Warner. The NHL declined comment Tuesday, but a Sports Business Journal report this week suggested that the league was nearing agreement with cable and satellite operators for a spot on a sports tier for the channel. The network would launch this week, according to Sports Business Journal. Sources said an announcement on the channel would be made this week.

It could be good news for the league, which is struggling to get on its feet after a yearlong lockout that spiked the 2004-05 season and the passing of cable rights from ESPN and ABC to Versus and NBC. DirecTV and the cable companies have had Center Ice since 1999, Dish since 2002.

The cable channel originally was supposed to be on the air long before this, but had been delayed with the lockout and the distribution quest.

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