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Coyotes move to Central 'will be cool,' Keller says

Arizona will shift divisions when Seattle joins Pacific as NHL's 32nd team in 2021-22

NHL.com @NHLdotcom

Clayton Keller will have to wait two more seasons to make a firm assessment, but the Arizona Coyotes center said Tuesday he's looking forward to the Coyotes moving to the Central Division in 2021-22, when the Seattle expansion team plays its first season in the NHL.

"There's obviously a lot of good teams in all the divisions, but I think it will be cool to play St. Louis a little bit more, being from there," said Keller, who grew up in Chesterfield, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and leads the Coyotes with eight goals and 18 points.

 

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Seattle became the League's 32nd team after the NHL's Board of Governors voted unanimously to approve the expansion application from the NHL Seattle group. 

The Board of Governors also approved a realignment plan that will shift the Coyotes from the Pacific Division to the Central, joining the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets, giving the NHL four divisions with eight teams each; the Central now currently has seven teams.

Seattle will be in the Pacific, joining the Anaheim Ducks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks and Vegas Golden Knights.

"It's down the road a little bit," Keller, who can become a restricted free agent after next season, said after the Coyotes morning skate prior to their game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center (10:30 p.m. ET; FS-W, FS-A PLUS, NHL.TV). "We're focused right now about this season, and when the time comes I'm sure we'll have a rivalry with each and every team [because we'll] play them so much."

Video: Coyotes are set to move to the Central Division

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed the Coyotes move as part of the expansion announcement Tuesday.

"We thought that it made the absolute most sense on a whole host of levels," Commissioner Bettman said, "geographic rivalries among the other teams in the Pacific, the fact that for most of the season Arizona is on Mountain time, not Pacific time so in terms of away broadcasts and the like. When you look at the matrix of scheduling, the difference between being in the same conference in division and out of division, it doesn't mean there will be a whole lot more travel. In fact, our scheduling will ensure like we do with Tampa in the Atlantic that it's a little more efficient. And all things being concluded, not the least of which, believe it or not, the Coyotes draw better against Central Division teams than they do against Pacific Division teams, we thought it made the most sense when we looked at all the other conceivable possibilities."

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly agreed.

"Certainly [the Coyotes] were consulted throughout the process," Deputy Commissioner Daly said. "I actually think it was at the end of the day the simplest, most logical, least disruptive option we had available to us and I think it will work well for the Coyotes."

Coyotes president and CEO Ahron Cohen said the move will not impact Arizona's goals of success on the ice and growing its fan base.

"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," Cohen said. "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."

NHL.com correspondent Dan Greenspan contributed to this report

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