When I was a kid in the mid-late 90's, my dad tried hard to get me into hockey. I played the sport in grade school on the floors of gyms, but it was hard to watch the games as my bedtime fell before the then 3-hour games would end.
That's when network TV came in. I LOVED the NHL On FOX and ABC as a kid. It gave me an oppurtunity to see all my favorite players, since the Devils were rarely on. Watching the New York Rangers get crushed on National TV every week against guys like Lemieux, Fedorov, Lindros and Amonte in the early part of the contract. I watched the Devils win the Stanley Cup in 1995 on FOX. In later years, the Devils would actually get an appearence against the Rangers or the Islanders once in a while, and many of the Devils playoff heartbreaks were broadcast on FOX.
By the time 1999 came around, I was 10 and watched the NHL On FOX every week. It was the game's last year on FOX, and they only showed a couple of regional games a week, which meant once in a while, the Rangers WOULDN't BE ON. That was fun. At the end of the year, they showed Wayne Gretzky's final game as an NHL player on the network. After yet another Devils heartbreak in the playoffs in '99, I stopped watching the games (except for the Finals) and that was it for FOX NHL Saturday.
The NHL On ABC continued the tradition of afternoon hockey, but by the time that came around, my dad would let me stay up to watch most games. That, combined with the fact that ABC rarely broadcast games, and I couldn't stand Gary Thorne (who would do the game of the week) I kind of lost interest.
NBC and VERSUS have sort of revived my love affair with the game, outside of the Devils. NBC broadcasts nearly as many games as FOX and devotes time to an online pre-show. VERSUS has been interesting to follow as well.
My point is, the NHL needs to keep some games on network TV to get kids interested in the games. It would help if there were more games, but I'll take what we have now.