NEW YORK (AP) -- The NHL and its broadcast partners are taking another shot at drawing viewers, retooling the TV lineup for next season so fans know when to find hockey.
The new schedule, released Wednesday, includes one major change and some minor ones designed to boost ratings that sagged 5 percent on ESPN, 14 percent on ESPN2 and 15 percent on ABC during the regular season when compared with 1999-00.
The biggest adjustment: Taking its lead from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.'s 50-year institution ''Hockey Night in Canada,'' ESPN will televise 25 of its 27 games on Wednesdays in prime time, rather than scattering them around the week.
''We share the same goal -- to grow the exposure and grow the ratings for our games,'' said Jon Litner, NHL chief operating officer.
''What this schedule reflects is, for the first time, there will consistently be a national hockey night for this coming season. In the past, ESPN was not able to establish a consistent night due to programming conflicts.''
Next season will be the third under the NHL's five-year, $600 million TV rights package with ABC and ESPN.
Those networks already have tried to increase viewership for a sport that has long trailed far behind the NFL, NBA and major league baseball in the TV ratings race.
The networks did their best to put Mario Lemieux on the air as often as possible after he ended his retirement during last season, ABC stuck a comedian in the booth at the All-Star game, and the schedules have been juggled.
In a bid to draw more fans, ESPN has also tried ''NHL Rules'' programming, using replays, telestrators and ESPN.com interaction to teach viewers about rules and strategy.
Still, the five Stanley Cup final games on ABC between champion Colorado and New Jersey averaged a 3.3 national rating, 11 percent lower than in 2000 -- and exactly the same as the average for the now-defunct XFL's regular-season telecasts on NBC.
''With the fragmented TV universe we're living in and with the multitude of choice out there, it's more critical than ever to create more appointment viewing and consistency in your schedule as possible,'' Litner said.
As in the 2000-01 season, ABC's five regular-season telecasts will all be on Saturdays (two seasons ago, games were split between Saturdays and Sundays).
And in an attempt to try to take advantage of NHL players participating in February's Salt Lake City Olympics, ABC will air two games in January and three in March. Last season, all of ABC's NHL broadcasts came after February's All-Star game.
HEAD:NHL, ESPN-ABC take another crack at TV interest
CAPTION:FILE -- Pittsburgh Penguins' Jaromir Jagr (68) looks to pass against the Buffalo Sabres in this Dec. 2, 2000 photo.
BYLINE1:By JOSEPH WHITE
BYLINE2:AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON -- Jaromir Jagr got his wish for a fresh start, giving the Washington Capitals the superstar they've always wanted.
Jagr, a seven-time All-Star and one of the league's true marquee players, was traded by the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Capitals on Wednesday for three prospects.
''It's kind of like when we got Michael Jordan, right?'' said Capitals owner Ted Leonsis, who brokered the deal last year that convinced Jordan to come to Washington as part-owner of the Capitals and the NBA's Washington Wizards. ''The opportunity was there.
''I do hope it answers two questions. One, can we get great players to come to Washington, D.C.? Two, I hope it knocks the chip off of people's shoulders. We're as good a team as any others now, and I hope the attendance and ticket sales prove it.''
In the deal, Washington gets Jagr and defenseman Frantisek Kucera, and sends Kris Beech, Michal Sivek, Ross Lupaschuk to Pittsburgh.
Jagr has been behind Pittsburgh's playoff dominance of the Capitals. Maybe now he can turn the table on the Penguins, who eliminated Washington from the postseason six times in seven tries since 1991 -- including this year.
''Yeah, that's a concern. We're definitely going to see them in the playoffs,'' Penguins GM Craig Patrick said. ''But that's our goal every year -- to beat the Caps in the first round of the playoffs and go on from there.''
Leonsis had been repeatedly thwarted in his bid to bring a big name to a team that has never had a national profile and struggles to maintain one even at home.
''This is a great day for the city,'' Leonsis said. ''It puts us on the national scene.''
The Capitals tried to sign several prominent free agents this month, but lost out in the bidding for Jeremy Roenick, Pierre Turgeon, Doug Weight and others.
The jubilant mood in Washington contrasted with the tone of Jagr's bittersweet departure from Pittsburgh, where he asked to be traded at least twice last season after spending his entire career there.
Patrick called Jagr in the Czech Republic on Wednesday to tell him about the trade.
''He wanted to move on, so he's glad at this point it's over with. It's difficult to trade someone who has been here 11 years and accomplished so much,'' Patrick said.
Jagr had a different message when he spoke later to Capitals general manager George McPhee.
''He said, 'I have to something to prove.' He wants to be the best player in the world,'' McPhee said.
The Czech forward played for Stanley Cup-winning Penguins teams in 1991 and 1992. This year, he helped lead Pittsburgh to the Eastern Conference finals after winning a fifth NHL scoring title and fourth in a row with 121 points. He had 52 goals and 69 assists.
Before Penguins owner-star Mario Lemieux ended his retirement in late December, Jagr was well down the NHL scoring list and had a stretch with only one goal in 12 games.
Jagr asked to be traded, and didn't seem particularly happy even after Lemieux returned and the Penguins made a drive for the Stanley Cup.
''It's probably time for a change,'' Lemieux said at one point.
Jagr's $20.7 million salary over the next two seasons limited the Penguins' options.
Before the deal, the New York Rangers were believed to be the front-runners for Jagr, but Patrick was unable to complete a trade with GM Glen Sather.
''This is the only deal that made sense to us,'' Patrick said.
Jagr, 29, won the Hart Trophy as league MVP in 1999. The 6-foot-2, 234-pound right wing has 439 goals and 640 assists in 806 NHL games. Pittsburgh led the NHL with 281 goals last season, while Washington's offense ranked only 13th. Peter Bondra was the team's only reliable scoring threat.
''You put this guy on the team with Peter Bondra,'' Leonsis said, ''and it answers the question, 'Can we score?'''
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