Well, the Center Ice free preview is over, and I won't lie--I'm a bit bummed out by that.
If there are any folks out there thinking about renewing, or just considering their options in general for getting more hockey than they can (should) handle, let me offer my opinion of the NHL's official online offering, Gamecenter Live. This is my second year as a subscriber to this service, and so far I've been pretty happy with it.
You can access the service via NHL.com. This link should work to get information.
It's not TV. For many, online viewing just isn't feasable. If it is, chances are your computer screen isn't as big as your TV screen, so there's also that to consider. I get to watch caps games locally on CSN, but if you're unable to do that, you may prefer to get a TV package.
It's not free. The prices changes as the season goes on, so I'm not going to quote prices, you can go to the website to check it out...but it's not "cheap". It appears they are offering a deal though the 31st. They do offer installment payments though, which helps. Plus, if you're considering the Center Ice package on cable, then chances are you've already considered having to spend some money anyway.
Blackouts. Of course, local market teams are blacked out, as well as any nationally televised games on Vs or NHL Network. If you're relying solely on your computer for hockey viewing, these games won't be available.
Quality. I've been really happy with the overall improvements to the quality of the feeds this year. My cable company only offers Center Ice in low-def feeds, and I can honestly say that the quality of the online feeds I get are much better than what I can get through my cable company. If you have decent bandwidth and can get the 1600kbps feed, it's really crystal clear (and 16:9). I've actually hooked my PC up to my TV and watched it that way, with great results.
It's not taking over my TV. As I mentioned, I live in the DC area, and get Caps games broadcast locally, so I mainly use this service for non-Caps viewing, but I like being able to throw a game on my computer to watch in the background and still being able to watch other programming on my TV.
Reliability (& peace of mind). The main reason I decided to post this was due to the amount of times I see folks struggling to find pirated online feeds of Caps and other hockey games. Yeah, they're out there if you know where to look, but the availability and quality are always a question mark, and I've also heard several folks complain about getting viruses or malware on their computer after having visited one the pirate sites. Plus, many consider it a "gray area" legally, so you kinda take a risk there as well--most likely nothing will ever come of it if you stream a game from one of "those sites", but you're not getting help if you screw up your PC either. Not worth it in my opinion.
Portability. You can take it with you! Many times when I have had to go out of town to visit friends and/or family members or even travel on business I've watched games from my computer, whereas I couldn't have done that with a CI package from my cable provider.
Features. There are a lot of other features available as well, like in-game stats and replays, plus you can watch multiple games. I've never been able to actually use the multi-game feature myself, but if your ADD doesn't get the best of you maybe you'll enjoy this.
No, it's not for everyone, but if you're looking for a non-market viewing option, it's definitely something to consider. As I've already mentioned, I've been quite pleased with the service so far. I just wish they'd make it free!