By Mark Carlisle
A new competitor won’t be the only change the Coyotes see when a Seattle team joins the NHL for the 2021-22 season.
With the addition of Seattle, the Coyotes will be bumped from the Pacific to the Central Division. This change will result in more travel for the Coyotes as they take more flights to places like Chicago and Nashville, Tennessee and fewer to places like Las Vegas and Southern California. It will also mean a new set of teams to compete against for playoff spots.
The Pacific Division currently consists of Arizona, Vegas, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. When Seattle becomes the NHL’s 32nd team in 2021-22, it will take Arizona’s spot in the Pacific, and the Coyotes will move to the Central — the only division that currently has seven teams instead of eight. In the Central, Arizona will join Colorado, Dallas, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Minnesota and Winnipeg.
A single round trip journey to each Central Division city totals an estimated 16,5465 miles of travel compared to just 10,808 total miles in a single round-trip journey to each Pacific Division city.
The change in division doesn’t cause as large a shift in the schedule as it would in other sports leagues. Currently, the Coyotes play each Western Conference team not in their division three times and most teams within the Pacific Division four times, playing one Pacific team five times on a rotating basis. The schedule format will shift slightly as a 32nd team is added to the league, so it’s unlikely any two teams will match up five times in 2021-22.
Ultimately for Valley hockey fans, the change will mean two guaranteed home games each year against each Central Division opponent and only one guaranteed with a possible second home against each Pacific Division foe.
The top three teams from each division make the playoffs as well as two wild-card teams from each conference. The Western Conference is made up of the Pacific and Central divisions.
If the Western Conference’s status quo remains the same when 2021-22 comes around, this will likely mean a tougher climb to the playoffs for the Coyotes. Each of the past three seasons, the top three seeds in the Central have had an equal or better record than the top three seeds in the Pacific. Just over a quarter into the 2018-19 season, the top Central teams also have a better record than the top Pacific teams.
The switch in divisions also kills a potentially budding rivalry between the Coyotes and the Vegas Golden Knights, the closest geographic rival any major Arizona pro sports team has ever had.
Vegas remains the closest team to Arizona, but fewer matchups and lower chances of playoff implications when they match up means less chance that the rivalry will flourish.
Instead, Coyotes fans must turn east when looking for a new team to love to hate. The Colorado Avalanche are the closest Central team geographically by far, 586 miles from Glendale. Next is Dallas, which is 884 miles away.
Three Pacific teams — Vegas, Los Angeles and Anaheim — are closer to Glendale than the closest team in the Central, Colorado. Vegas is more than twice as close as Colorado, which plays in Denver.