Did you get rid of your cable subscription? Fear not, you can still watch the puck fly this NHL season with the right video streaming service. Our guide explains 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 NHL TV packages. The 2021-22 NHL season ends this June, so there’s still time to find out your streaming lineup.
How to Watch NHL Games Without Cable
Regular-season NHL games air on national channels and on the RSN, 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 the broadcast rights for games that are broadcast nationally. The NHL’s Linear Channel (NHL Network) has national broadcast rights, as do Disney (ABC and ESPN) and AT&T’s WarnerMedia through Turner Sports (TBS and TNT). Although it’s too soon to look forward to the playoffs, it’s easy to know that every postseason NHL game will air on the same Disney- and Turner Sports-owned channels.
Finding a live TV streaming service with those five channels is easy, but navigating the world of RSNs is anything but. The first thing to know about RSNs is that they are only available to customers who live in the local markets they cover. In other words, someone who lives in Detroit cannot view the Seattle-based RSN. These channels usually have exclusive broadcast rights for the teams they cover, so even if a game is set to be broadcast on a national channel, it is not possible for anyone living in the markets of the team involved. For this the local RSN can be blacked out.
Most RSNs are owned by AT&T (Sportsnet), Comcast (NBC Sports), or Fox (Bally Sports), but others are jointly operated, either in partnership with NHL teams or other media companies. For example, many SportsNets are affiliates of RSN Bally Sports. RSNs are not the same as your local broadcast affiliate channel, even though channel ownership may overlap. For example, 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 RSN airs games for 18 teams. The Sports Network covers sports for several Canadian NHL teams, but those RSNs aren’t available to US customers on any of the live TV services we tested.
DirecTV Streams is the only live TV streaming service we reviewed that offers all Bali Sports and Sportsnet RSNs, but it’s missing some of the NBC Sports RSNs. FuboTV, Hulu+ Live TV and YouTube TV no longer offer Bally Sports RSN, but they do all have NBC Sports. FuboTV also offers some Sportsnet RSNs. Sling TV does not offer any RSN.
Don’t immediately dismiss a live TV streaming service as lacking a particular subset of RSNs. Which RSN you need depends on where you live and whether you care to see 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 Streamable.
What happened to NHL.TV?
Previously, the NHL offered its own live streaming service called NHL.TV, which, like the NBA’s various League Pass plans, lets you watch live, out-of-market games. For customers in the US, the NHL.TV package is now part of ESPN+. NHL fans subscribing to that service can watch up to 1,000 live, out-of-market games this season, plus 75 exclusive games.
What else do NHL fans need to know?
Before choosing a sports streaming service, you should compare the technical specifications. For example, if you want to record every game, choose a streaming service with a generous DVR storage limit. If you live in a home with many other people, choose a service that supports multiple concurrent streams. Make sure that potential live TV streaming services also offer apps for all the media streaming devices you own.
Another consideration is the streaming resolution of a service. Hulu+ Live TV and YouTube TV both support live streams at up to 1080p/60fps, and when we tested it, ESPN+ appeared to do the same. FuboTV and YouTube TV (via an add-on) also technically support 4K live streams, but it doesn’t look like either service will broadcast any NHL games at that resolution for now. The higher streaming resolution results in a sharper picture and the faster frame rate helps smooth out fast action.
If you’re never in the mood for hockey or sports, there are several video streaming services out here that offer an impressive library of on-demand shows and movies. Most of these services are expensive, so you probably won’t be using them. Only To watch NHL games. A service’s on-demand library can make it more compelling than a competitor that doesn’t have as strong a streaming collection.
Cable and over-the-air options
An easy way to make sure you can watch all of the NHL games in your market this season is to sign up for a cable plan with a premium sports package (which includes the NHL network). Cable plans are usually more expensive than live streaming options, but they’re 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 are broadcast on ABC, you can pick up those games with a digital antenna. Setting up a digital antenna, of course, isn’t as easy as launching your streaming app of choice and requires you to pay extra money for hardware. Depending on the number of possible games you can see with this method, it may not be worth the effort. Lowcast used to be a cheaper option for watching local channels, including ABC, but the service has since taken off.
Want to watch sports other than the NHL? Follow all the NBA action with one of the best NBA streaming services. Both the NFL and MLB are going strong as well; We have roundups of the best NFL streaming services and MLB streaming services.
Kim Kee and Ben Moore contributed to this story.