The Arizona Coyotes begin their first season in the Central Division on Thursday after getting replaced in the Pacific by the expansion Seattle Kraken.
This will create some challenges for the Coyotes, both in terms of competition and travel.
“It’s a considerably harder division,” Arizona executive and former player Shane Doan told Bickley & Marotta on Arizona Sports Tuesday morning. “We move to a division where, the hardest part is you give up a 45-minute flight to Vegas and a 45-minute to LA and to Anaheim, and you trade that in for a three-hour flight to Winnipeg, Minnesota and Nashville.”
The Coyotes are the western-most squad in the division, and the Dallas Stars are the only franchise further south.
The Central is the most spread out division in the NHL, so the Coyotes will have to adjust to the longer flights.
Doan also anticipates Arizona’s opponents to provide a tough test as well, especially this year.
“The teams in the division have all made the playoffs in the last year or two,” Doan said. “A couple are legit Stanley Cup contenders and Colorado being probably the Stanley Cup contender in the league. We’re going to have our hands full. It is a tough division. We’re going to have to play well at home and on the road.”
The Avalanche tied the Golden Knights for the most points last season and are FanDuel’s favorite to win the Stanley Cup at +550.
Last year, when the divisions were shifted due to the pandemic, five of the current eight teams in the Central made the playoffs: Colorado, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Nashville and St. Louis.
The Coyotes have the lowest odds to win the division this season as a younger team in a rebuild. But Arizona still has veteran leaders who Doan thinks can help grow the younger players.
“When push comes to shove and it gets hard, and it’s going to get difficult, your character is going to come out in that time,” Doan said. “Your job is to win hockey games. Your job isn’t to play in the NHL, your job is to win hockey games. I think those guys embody that and the ability to understand that our character matters.”