Tomorrow morning the NHL Board of Governors will vote whether or not to allow the league to expand to its 32nd city, Seattle, Washington. If approved, adding the coastal city will mean that the Pacific Division will change in order to create balance with the seven team Central Division. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, moving the Arizona Coyotes to the Central Division is part of the Seattle proposal as he reported on Saturday at the 2:50 minute mark of this video. Friedman also noted that this plan can change and for the sake of the Coyotes and their fans I hope it will change for a number of reasons.
One reason that many hockey pundits give for the Arizona move is that there’s always the chance that the team won’t be able to make an arena deal and will move to Houston. As much as I’d hate to break the hearts of the relocation trolls, its unlikely that the NHL would give up potential expansion dollars for a Houston team. Also, the Coyotes are not the only Western Conference team with arena troubles. The Calgary Flames still don’t have an arena deal in place and the hopes of getting one are not great as they have to restart negotiations with city all over again. If the Coyotes can’t get a new arena deal worked out at least they can still continue to automatically renew their current contract with the the arena manager, AEG, for the next five years.
It’s easy to understand that when looking at the teams currently in the Pacific Division, it looks like Arizona is closest to the Central Division if you’re only willing to move one team at all. There is another option that makes a lot of sense. Instead of just moving Arizona the league could move both the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers to the Central Division and Colorado to the Pacific Division. Allow me to explain why this is a better option:
Most of Arizona, except for part of the sovereign Navajo Nation, doesn’t use Daylight Saving Time. That means for parts of the regular season and the entire playoff season the Coyotes’ time zone aligns (MST) with the teams that are located in the pacific time zone (PDT). Moving Arizona to the Central Division would mean that for those critical months the start time for it’s in division games would be very late for the other team’s fans or very early for the Coyotes fans depending on which is the home team. I can’t speak for all fans but personally I already prefer later weekday starts because I commute home from the East Valley to the West Valley and, as it is, often don’t get home or to the arena in time for the start of the game. Eastern Conference road trips are bad enough but having most of the team’s games starting at 5 and 5:30 p.m. for at least the first and last months of the season would make this worse. Instead those early start times for the Flames and Oilers come with the added benefit of more Canadian national attention for their young stars like Matthew Tkachuk and Connor McDavid.
One of the main reasons that people aren’t suggesting to send the Flames or the Oilers alone to the Central Division is to preserve the long standing rivalry between the two teams. If that is reason enough to keep one of those teams from moving it should also be reason enough to keep the Coyotes in the Pacific. When I looked at the Team Rivals section of hockeyfights.com I saw that the three California teams are in the Coyotes’ top five. That’s three rivals the Coyotes would lose and, as fans of any Arizona sports team know, getting more chances to #BeatLA is always better. Not to mention that one of the benefits of having a second desert team is the potential for a future rivalry between Vegas and Arizona. Looking at both Calgary and Edmonton’s pages shows that the top five rivalry losses could be mitigated by playing the Winnipeg Jets and St. Louis Blues more often.
Since Vegas was granted its expansion franchise a new phenomena has occurred in the NHL schedule: the ability to group together desert road trips for visiting teams. It’s already happened this season with the Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, Tampa Bay Lightning, Ottawa Senators, Carolina Hurricanes and Flames. It happens again later this week when the Washington Capitals visit the Golden Knights tomorrow and the Coyotes on Thursday. If the desert duo is separated they won’t be facing the same opponents the same number of times.
The biggest issue for any team moving from the Pacific to the Central divisions is going to be travel distances. Regardless of who ends up going, the additional travel miles will, undoubtedly, suck. Finding the team, or teams, with the lowest impact in additional travel miles is the best way to mitigate this issue. Using WorldAtlas.com I’ve calculated the travel miles all of the teams that could possibly move would add, keep in mind that the number of trips was left out as that would be dependent on how the schedule is made. If the league decided to move the Vegas Golden Knights it would increase their travel by 4,384.40 mi (7,056.02 km). If the Coyotes ended up being the team to head out of the pacific it would add an additional 2,705.67 mi (4,354.36 km). If Edmonton moves their travel increases 1,303.01 mi (2,096.96 km) and if Calgary goes with them that’s an additional 1,828.50 mi (2,942.69 km). The table and calculations can be found here.
I haven’t mentioned much about Colorado in all of this because of all the teams involved they should be jumping at the chance to join the Pacific. They would easily be one of the top teams in the division immediately. The travel distances would only be slightly different than what they experience now, with Seattle added, it comes to an additional 900.72 mi (1,449.57 km). They are practically an honorary part of the Pacific Division already. Their AHL team is in the AHL’s Pacific Division and they took part in the Rookie Faceoff with other Pacific Division teams in Vegas during the offseason.
No matter what happens with the Seattle expansion vote the Coyotes leadership should fight to keep the team in the Pacific Division.