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NHL.com Smiles Pretty For Fans

The pucks haven't hit the ice yet for the 2008/2009 season, but the NHL is getting fans ready with an overhaul of its NHL.com Website set to debut today.

Key to the redesign is NHL GameCenter, a kind of "second screen" beyond TV coverage that will feature video highlights of select video highlights, real-time stats, audio feeds and social networking.

The features listed above are free. GameCenter Live, a $159 (early bird) per year premium subscription service, offers live online broadcasts of most NHL games (local blackouts and some other restrictions apply). GameCenter Live will let you view as many as four games at a time live and easily pop in and out for a large view of the one you're most interested in.

Separately, the NHL also announced a deal with Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) to develop a first of its kind, co-branded premium fantasy sports game. Yahoo is a leading provider of online fantasy sports leagues. This deal will be the first time a fantasy sports product has integrated actual league-authorized footage to help scout and track player's performance within the game. It also includes integrated NHL stats and player data and is available here.

While the NHL doesn't have the kind of lucrative national TV contracts of the three other major sports, baseball, basketball and football, it has more flexibility online. "We're unencumbered by national broadcast contracts so we have more freedom, Michael DiLorenzo, the league's director of corporate communications, told InternetNews.com. DiLorenzo notes, for example, a range of themed content channels NHL.com offers including a highlights channel, Web exclusives, NHL draft channel and one for the playoffs.

The NHL also hopes its site will help address the fifty percent of its fan base that, on average, lives outside the area of their favorite team. DiLorenzo said this analysis is based on the location of fans registering at the site and those ordering team specific merchandise. "For example, we've found that about ten percent of Detroit Redwings fans live in California," he said. "They can get the jerseys and other merchandise at our NHL.com shop that they won't find locally."

But he also emphasizes a major goal of NHL.com is to give hockey fans more exposure to other teams beyond their local favorites. "We're giving fans a chance to see some exciting things in other markets and reduce some of the tribalism," said DiLorenzo.