ESPN's fractured relationship with the NHL has never been worse. SportsCenter treats the NHL with the ambivalence and disinterest usually saved for MLS and other niche sports and NHL fans have abandoned ESPN en masse. Only a token appearance from Barry Melrose out of whatever Bristol dungeon ESPN keeps him in gives professional hockey a minute presence on ESPN airwaves. In fact, it has seemed at times that ESPN has purposely avoided NHL news out of spite if nothing else.
If you've watched ESPN in the last month you would have little idea the NHL is embroiled in another lockout that threatens the sport. You would have no concept of the NHL's growth in popularity in the several seasons since the last lockout or the issues at the heart of the current one. ESPN exec Vince Doria infamously proclaimed from his Bristol ivory tower, "the sport of hockey doesn't translate to a national discussion."
Perhaps ESPN's view of hockey has changed. In spite of the NHL Lockout, ESPN will finally, once again, televise professional hockey this season.