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Sports 101

The National Hockey League skated into its 82nd season last week with several changes, including new rules, a new team, and a new six-division setup. And good news for goalies: The specifications for their equipment have changed, making it less bulky.

Q: How many teams are in the NHL?

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A: With the addition of the Nashville Predators, there are now 27 teams. Over the next two seasons, Atlanta; Columbus, Ohio; and Minneapolis-St. Paul will join the NHL for a total of 30.

Q: What does the new six-division system entail?

A: It's a two-conference, six-division setup: Atlantic, Northeast, and Southeast in the Eastern conference and the Central, Northwest, and Pacific in the West. The Predators will compete in the Central with Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis.

Q: Which is the team to watch this year?

A: The Detroit Red Wings. After winning the Stanley Cup for the past two years, they have a chance to three-peat - a feat that hasn't been accomplished since the the New York Islanders won four times from 1980 to 1983.

Q: The ice rink has a new look. How will this change the game?

A: The goal line has been increased from 11 to 13 feet from end to end. The NHL hopes the increased space behind the net will result in more scoring, which has decreased in recent years. At the same time, there will be less room in the neutral zone (54 feet) and more in the offensive zones (73).

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Also, the NHL will use a two-referee, two-linesmen system for some games. (Linesmen call offsides and face-offs, not penalties.)

Q: Which network will carry the games?

A: The NHL signed a five-year, $600 million TV contract with Disney, so after this season, all games will be shown on ABC and ESPN, with none on Fox.

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