06/24/2015 03:10 EDT | Updated 06/24/2016 05:59 EDT

NHL announces start of expansion process

The NHL's board of governors has given the green light to opening a formal expansion process.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced Wednesday afternoon that the league will begin the process of expanding beyond its current 30 teams.

While that's no guarantee the NHL will add a 31st or a 32nd team, it's an important step toward expanding the league.,

"There's no list, no priority, let's take a look [at expansion], " Bettman said. "The executive committee will be reviewing applications.

"We will, probably starting in early July, accept formal applications from people that are interested in pursuing an expansion team," Bettman said. "We will then go through a formal vetting process, and the board ultimately will determine whether or not there's any interest in expanding.

"If the conclusion is there is interest from the league's perspective, then there will be focus on what the terms would be and and who the likely successful candidates might be."

Bill Foley's Hockey Vision Las Vegas is at the forefront of expansion talk, and the city is the favourite to get a franchise.

The Las Vegas season-ticket drive received over 11,500 deposits for seats at the brand new arena that's set to open next spring.

Seattle and Quebec City are other leading candidates for expansion.

It's uncertain how many teams the NHL might add. Bettman will reportedly say that the league is ready to accept bids but will not commit to an exact number of teams.

"There's no list, there's no priority, we just said let's take a look [at expansion}," Bettman said as he began the media conference. "The executive committee will be reviewing applications."

League executives have been meeting this week in Las Vegas, where the annual NHL awards show will be held Wednesday night.

Quebec City and Seattle are also thought to be in the running for an expansion team.

The NHL last expanded in 1999, when it added the Atlanta Thrashers. That franchise struggled both on the ice and at the gate before moving to Winnipeg prior to the 2011-12 season.