The last stat I heard about NHL on American TV was that it gets about as many viewers as the pro bowling tour. If they counted the people who couldn't change the channel because they lost the remote in the couch...that would account for a "huge growth" in viewership.
The major US TV deals are up soon anyway. The NHL will not get as good a deal as they have now. ESPN may not even pick up NHL games.
If there is anything the nonconformist hates worse than a conformist, it's another nonconformist who doesn't conform to the prevailing standard of nonconformity.