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Arizona Coyotes to move to NHL’s Central Division in 2021-22

Nashville Predators right wing Craig Smith (15) checks Arizona Coyotes left wing Lawson Crouse (67) during the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. The Coyotes defeated the Predators 2-1. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

A deal to move the Arizona Coyotes to the Central Division was part of the Seattle expansion package that passed unanimously at the NHL’s Board of Governor’s meetings on Tuesday.

The move will come as a new expansion team in Seattle will join the league and begin play in the year 2021.

Because the Pacific Division has eight teams and the Central only has seven, adding Seattle to the league in the Pacific and then realigning one team to the Central made mathematical sense.

Commissioner Gary Bettman that time zone, scheduling and the Coyotes’ better attendance in games against Central Divison teams all will make Arizona’s transition to the Central Division “easier,” via TSN’s Darren Dreger.

“We are happy to welcome Seattle as the NHL’s 32nd franchise as the NHL continues to grow the game of hockey throughout North America,” Coyotes president and CEO Ahron Cohen said in a statement from the team. “We will work with the League to ensure a smooth transition into the Central Division in time for the 2021-22 season, and we appreciate the League’s willingness to assist with logistics and scheduling to make travel as easy as possible between our home in Phoenix and the other Central destinations.

“Our fans should take comfort in knowing they will continue to see us play our Pacific Division rivals multiple times a year — including squaring off with Vegas for desert bragging rights — while also getting to see new rivalries with some legacy franchises. Regardless of what division we are in, our goals remain the same: win on the ice against whomever they put in front of us on the schedule, build Coyotes fandom throughout the entire State of Arizona, and positively impact our Arizona community.”

At the moment, the Central is clearly a much stronger division than the Pacific. The Pacific’s first-place Calgary Flames have 31 points in the standings, while that same amount of points in the Central would tie a team for third place with the Winnipeg Jets. However, because Seattle won’t begin play until the 2021-22 season, things could change a lot by then.

The Central currently features the 2018 President’s Trophy-winning Nashville Predators; the Colorado Avalanche, which features the so-called “best line in hockey” with Gabe Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, who have combined for 118 points this year; and the Winnipeg Jets, who went to the Western Conference Finals in 2018 and lost to the Vegas Golden Knights; along with the Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.

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