Did you get rid of your cable subscription during the pandemic? Fear not, you can still watch the pucks fly this NHL season with the right video streaming service. Our guide tells your everything you need to know about choosing the best service for watching hockey, from the complexities of regional sports networks (RSNs) to the new home of the NHL.TV package. The 2021-22 NHL season officially begins on October 12, so now is the time to figure out your streaming lineup.
How to Watch NHL Games Without Cable
Regular-season NHL games air on national channels and RSNs, so to watch every NHL game available to you in your market this season, you need a live TV streaming service that offers both types of channels.
The NHL recently renegotiated broadcast rights for nationally airing games. The NHL’s linear channel (NHL Network) has national broadcast rights, as do Disney (ABC and ESPN) and AT&T’s WarnerMedia via Turner Sports (TBS and TNT). Although it’s too soon to look ahead to the playoffs, it’s still handy to know that every postseason NHL game will air on those same Disney- and Turner Sports-owned channels.
It’s easy to find a live TV streaming service with those five channels, but navigating the world of RSNs is anything but simple. The first thing to know about RSNs is that they are available only to subscribers who reside in the local markets they cover. In other words, someone who lives in Detroit can’t watch an RSN based in Seattle. These channels also typically have exclusive broadcasting rights to the teams they cover, so even if a game is set to air on a national channel, it may be blacked out to the local RSN for anyone who lives within the involved team’s markets.
Most RSNs are owned by AT&T (SportsNet), Comcast (NBC Sports), or FOX (Bally Sports), but others are operated jointly either in partnership with NHL teams or other media companies. Many of the SportsNet RSNs are affiliates of Bally Sports, for example. RSNs are not the same thing as your local broadcast affiliate channel, even though the channel ownership may overlap. For instance, NBC Sports Boston is not the same as your local NBC station in Boston.
AT&T handles broadcasts for three NHL teams, Comcast covers five teams, and FOX-owned RSNs air games for 18 teams. The Sports Network covers games for several Canadian NHL teams, but those RSNs aren’t available to US subscribers on any of the live TV services we tested.
DirecTV Stream is the only live TV streaming service we’ve reviewed that offers all the Bally Sports and SportsNet RSNs, but it is missing a few of the NBC Sports RSNs. FuboTV, Hulu + Live TV, and YouTube TV no longer offer Bally Sports RSNs, but they have all the NBC Sports ones. FuboTV also offers a few SportsNet RSNs. Sling TV does not offer any RSNs.
Don’t immediately rule out a live TV streaming service because it lacks a particular subset of RSNs. Which RSN you need depends on where you live and whether you care about watching your local, in-market team. To find out which RSN covers your team, check out this list of regional NHL broadcasters or search for a specific team on The Streamable.
What Happened to NHL.TV?
Previously, the NHL offered its own live streaming service called NHL.TV that, like the NBA’s various League Pass plans, let you watch live, out-of-market games. For subscribers in the US, the NHL.TV package is now a part of ESPN+. NHL fans who subscribe to that service can watch up to 1,000 live, out-of-market games this season, as well as 75 exclusive ones.
What Else Do NHL Fans Need to Know?
Before picking a sports streaming service, you should compare the technical specifications. For example, if you want to record every game, pick a streaming service with generous DVR storage limits. If you live in a household with several other people, choose a service that supports multiple concurrent streams. Make sure prospective live TV streaming services offer apps for all the media streaming devices you own, as well.
Another consideration is a service’s streaming resolution. Hulu + Live TV and YouTube TV both support up to 1080p/60fps live streams, and, when we tested it, ESPN+ appeared to as well. FuboTV and YouTube TV (via an add-on) also technically support 4K live streams, but it does not appear that either service will air any NHL games at that resolution for now. Higher streaming resolutions result in a sharper picture and faster frame rates help smooth out fast action.
If you are ever not in the mood for hockey or sports, several of the video streaming services here offer impressive libraries of on-demand shows and movies. Most of these services are pricey, so you likely won’t use them only for watching NHL games. A service’s on-demand library might make it more compelling than a competitor that doesn’t have as strong of a streaming collection.
Cable and Over-the-Air Options
One easy way to ensure that you can watch all the NHL games this season in your market is to sign up for a cable plan with a premium sports package (one that includes NHL Network). Cable plans are typically more expensive than live streaming alternatives, but they are great for people who want to get the widest possible variety of cable TV networks for one price.
Because some (but not many) NHL games air on ABC, you can pick up those games with a digital antenna. Setting up a digital antenna, of course, is not as simple as launching the streaming app of your choice and requires you to pay extra money for the hardware. Based on the number of potential games you can watch with this method, it may not be worth the effort. Locast used to be a cheap option for watching local channels, including ABC, but that service has since shut down.
Want to watch sports other than the NHL? Prepare for the upcoming NBA season without our guide to the best NBA streaming services. Both the NFL and MLB are going strong, too; we have roundups of the best NFL streaming services and MLB streaming services.