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Collins joined the NHL in August 2008 after holding a number of positions within the NFL. He’s helped develop the league’s current strategy and believes it is starting to pay off.

“It’s created a really easy path for corporate partners and advertisers to spend money against hockey,” Collins said. “In this environment, that’s critical _ to be able to attract the blue-chip top advertisers and get them to spend their marketing and advertising dollars on your sport.

“It’s the fuel that drives the entire business.”

Business has been very good for the NHL. The league had already eclipsed last year’s number of sponsor commitments by the midpoint of this season.

In recent months, the NHL renewed deals with Bridgestone, Cisco and McDonald’s while establishing new ones with Canadian Tire, Tim Horton’s and Hershey’s in Canada, and Discover in the U.S.

The league has yet to decide how many outdoor games it will stage each season. While not wanting to make them seem less special, the NHL is having trouble ignoring how big the impact is on each city that gets to play host to an outdoor game _ a point that was reinforced last weekend in Calgary.

“In the market, whether it’s Calgary or Pittsburgh or Buffalo, it’s just such a big deal,” Collins said. “It’s so much fun and really brings people together. From that standpoint, it always feels big in the market.

“The power and the energy in those markets that are involved with the game is hard to resist.”