At long last, hockey is back. After National Hockey League owners and players decided to go nuclear on each other and wipe out a season, it's now time for the league to go about repairing its image and its business. A new TV deal with Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) OLN network is an interesting first step.

Having been on Disney's (NYSE:DIS) ESPN network for quite some time, NHL games will now be seen on the OLN (formerly known as the Outdoor Life Network) for at least the next two years. Whereas Disney turned down an option to televise games for $60 million this year, Comcast offered about $207.5 million for the next three seasons, including $65 million for this season and the possibility of extending the deal to as many as six years.

On ESPN, NHL games were hardly a draw: When the league stopped playing, the network showed women's softball and celebrity bowling, and ratings improved in some cases. Consequently, it's hard to say that it will regret walking away from what was quite possibly an unprofitable (or at least insufficiently profitable) $60 million deal.

For Comcast, this could be a means toward launching a full sports-oriented channel that could rival ESPN. Remember, ESPN itself started off with tractor pulls, arena football, and other low-profile sports and gradually built itself into a major player for virtually all U.S. sports. Although it pains me to say that hockey is itself a niche sport these days, it is a niche sport with some loyal fans, and that could make it a worthwhile "loss leader" for drawing eyeballs to the OLN channel.

Of course, it's not going to be easy. A joint venture between Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) CNN and Sports Illustrated lasted about 5 1/2 years before succumbing to competition from ESPN and Fox Sports Net. And besides the NHL, OLN doesn't have a lot of high-demand programming outside of Survivor reruns.

But Comcast does have a willingness to spend, and I believe there is plenty of sports programming to go around if Comcast can stay in the game long enough to build a truly desirable core of events. Of course, with the likes of Viacom (NYSE:VIA), Disney, News Corp. (NYSE:NWS), and General Electric's (NYSE:GE) NBC all competing for sports programming, rights fees have gone up significantly over the years, and this is not cheap real estate.

Personally, I don't really care all that much where hockey's being broadcast. I'm going to be ordering the NHL's Center Ice package, overdosing on hockey for at least the first four months of the season, and catching up on my weekly fix of Hockey Night in Canada.

For the other players, though, this is an interesting move. The NHL gets a respectable amount of money to be shown in about 63 million households (versus 90 million for ESPN), Comcast gets to test out its idea of a rival sports channel, and ESPN gets to continue duplicating the MTV strategy of moving away from its historical core programming toward more profitable options.

Seems like a slap shot to me; or at least a tip-in at the crease.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares). He's eagerly waiting to see how his beloved Blackhawks manage to continue to fail under the league's new rules.