Part of the cable buzz Tues was speculation that Comcast is about to become an even bigger player in sports, following a Philly Inquirer story detailing the MSO’s planned bid for NHL rights. Talk of NHL rights is premature, since the league isn’t speaking to anyone until it ratifies its labor agreement, we hear. The NHL and its players union could ratify the labor package as early as this week. The league’s cable rights came into play last month when ESPN passed on a $60mln option to cover hockey next season (Cfax, June 1). Pro hockey’s anemic ratings were a constant irritant to Bristol, which might be interested in the league at a much lower price. When the NHL finally starts accepting bids, it should expect one from Comcast, among other networks (such as Spike and Turner). What makes this story compelling is not the NHL, which is far from the most popular sports league. It’s the combination of the NHL and the NFL’s Thurs-Sat rights, which remain up for grabs. A network that claims both would become a bona fide national sports powerhouse, albeit with a fraction of ESPN’s strength and influence. If successful on both counts (a big if, mind you), Comcast likely would turn the programming over to OLN. That net’s makeover to a full-fledged sports channel has been rumored for years. Working in Comcast’s favor is that the NHL is looking to launch a network, a la NFL Net and NBA TV. It might curry favor with the nation’s biggest MSO by partnering on the deal. So far, OLN’s biggest program is the Tour de France. Through Sun, it’d recorded a 32% jump in gross HH rating and a 35% increase in total viewers.