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NHL Scores Record Online Traffic, Extends NBC Deal

Traffic is up about 75% since the launch and the NHL Network Online drew 7 million page views for the week of April 13 alone.

Four years after a crippling lockout that resulted in a lost season and relegation to sports afterthought in the U.S. market, the National Hockey League's fortunes appear to be on the rebound.

The league on Wednesday reported an all-time high for traffic at NHL.com, and said that NBC has exercised its option to broadcast games through the 2008-2009 season.

"This is great news for the NHL and its fans," said league Commissioner Gary Bettman, in a statement.

League officials credit the spike in traffic at NHL.com with the launch earlier this month of the NHL Network Online -- a cutting-edge portal that features archived game highlights from the Stanley Cup playoffs, as well as podcasts, live coverage of league events such as the amateur draft, behind-the-scenes features, and links to XM Radio's NHL Live show.

The NHL Network Online launched on April 9, replacing NHL.TV as the league's marquee video portal. Traffic is up about 75% since the launch, the NHL said, noting that the NHL Network Online drew 7 million page views for the week of April 13 alone.

The NHL also will be seen on a major U.S. television network for at least another season. NBC said it has picked up its option to broadcast weekend games next season. In a statement, NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said ratings for the "Sunday Game of the Week" on NBC were up 11% over last year.

"There have been positive signs for the league, both on and off the ice," said Ebersol. Indeed, the emergence of young superstars like the Washington Capitals' Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins appears to have rejuvenated the NHL's fan base.

The league also is more competitive than it's been in years. Three of the eight first-round series in the ongoing 2008 playoffs went the full seven games, while another three were decided in six. The Penguins' 4-0 knockout of the Ottawa Senators was the only sweep.

The NHL's 2004-2005 season was canceled following a player lockout that stemmed from the league's decision to implement a per-team salary cap.

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