NHL owners approve evaluating possible expansion teams

Las Vegas (AFP) - National Hockey League team owners authorized officials Wednesday to begin evaluating prospective ownership groups and cities for potential expansion clubs with an August 10 deadline for applications.

The move comes as several cities and groups have been mentioned as possible expansion sites, but also with a few of the NHL's 30 teams in troubled states in their current cities.

Owners also approved rule changes for the 2015-16 season, most notably tweaking the overtime format in hopes of having fewer games decided by shootouts and adding a video review challenge option for coaches.

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Quebec City, once home to the NHL Nordiques until they relocated to Denver and become the Colorado Avalanche, has an NHL-standard arena built and an ownership group hopeful of satisfying the hunger for the return of a team at the highest level.

Las Vegas, where the NHL is holding its annual meetings, has an arena under construction and an ownership group was given the extraordinary approval to test season ticket interest.

Seattle, where there is interest in building a new arena for an NBA team and NHL club, and Portland, where an NBA arena already exists, are two northwest US markets also mentioned as prime contenders for expansion or relocation.

Any groups seeking an expansion team will be able to obtain applications from the NHL starting on July 6 with a deadline to file them with the league of August 10.

"Over the past several years we have received numerous expressions of interest from potential markets and ownership groups that have indicated an interest in joining the National Hockey League," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said.

"The (ownership) board decided today to examine those expressions more formally and also to welcome any other groups or markets that may be considering pursuit of an NHL team."

But, Bettman warned, the league is making no promise to expand, although hefty fees for expansion clubs are likely to ensure money for everyone and therefore a warm reception provided the financial backing is in order.

"The fact that we are beginning this process does not necessarily mean that any expansion teams will be granted as a result of this process," Bettman said.

While Stanley Cup champion Chicago set the attendance pace with 21,700 fans a game, some clubs have lagged at the gate, notably in such warm-weather US markets as Arizona, Florida and Carolina.

City officials in suburban Phoenix want new terms on their lease deal with the Arizona Coyotes, who have been a money loser for years but vital to the community's shops and restaurants near the specially built arena.

The Coyotes drew 13,345 spectators a game last season, third-worst in the NHL but ahead of Carolina (12,594) and Florida (11,265).

When Bettman approved the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg's 15,000-seat arena in 2011, he told supporters they needed to buy every seat for every game to ensure the team remained solvent, which they have. But that target could indicate troubles for those clubs below that attendance mark.

- Fewer on ice in OT -

Owners adopted changes recommended by general managers, the biggest being to trim overtimes from four skaters per team plus a goaltender to three skaters plus a goalie for the five-minute session.

A similar change last year in a developmental league reduced the number of games that went into shootouts by nearly half.

Penalized teams will not play with fewer that three skaters and goalie but instead will have their opponents play with an extra man.

Coaches may now ask for a video challenge of a goal they think was scored on an incorrectly called offside play or wrongly allowed or disallowed due to goaltender interference. A team must risk its timeout to make such a move and forfeit it if incorrect. No challenge can be made if the timeout has been used.

The league operations video review center will decide all such replays in the final minute of the third period and overtimes.

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