Las Vegas and Quebec City advanced to the third and final formal stage to land NHL expansion franchises.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly confirmed the development in an email to The Associated Press on Friday.
Daly referred to the third stage as "the last formal phase," but added, "it does not necessarily constitute the end of the process."
A person familiar with the process told The AP that the third stage involves the NHL reviewing the applicants' business plans and revenue projections. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because the NHL has not revealed the details of the process.
The third stage is scheduled to end next month. Barring setbacks, it would then be up to the league and board of governors' approval to award expansion franchises, the person added.
The NHL isn't expected to expand until 2017-18 at the earliest.
Daly's confirmation came after Montreal-based communications giant Quebecor announced on its Twitter account that it was moving forward. The company, which is overseeing the Quebec City bid, concluded its message by saying: "The goal: Bring #Nordiques back to Quebec City."
Quebec's capital was previously home to the Nordiques, before they relocated to Colorado in 1995 and became the Avalanche.
Messages left with the Bill Foley-led group "Vegas Wants Hockey," were not returned. Foley is a billionaire businessman who had secured more than 13,200 season ticket deposits since February, when he began exploring the community's level of interest for professional hockey.
Commissioner Gary Bettman has proposed an expansion fee of $500-million. That's a significant jump from the $80-million fee paid by the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild, when the NHL last expanded to 30 teams in 2000.
The third phase comes after the NHL examined each market and both groups' arena plans In Quebec City, the publicly funded, 18,259-seat Videotron Centre is set to open next month. In Las Vegas, a multipurpose arena under construction near the Las Vegas Strip is set to open next spring.
The first phase came last month, when Las Vegas and Quebec City were the only expansion applicants out of 16 to have their bids accepted by the NHL.
As part of their applications, the two groups submitted a $10-million down payment, $2-million of which was nonrefundable.
An NHL franchise in Las Vegas would be the first in any of the major sports leagues for the city.