Coyotes could relocate to Salt Lake City as part of NHL plan

Coyotes could relocate to Salt Lake City as part of NHL plan


The NHL is preparing a contingency that could relocate the Arizona Coyotes to Utah as soon as next season, sources told ESPN.

Even though the NHL remains convinced a franchise should be in Arizona, the league is skeptical about the Coyotes’ newest plan to build an arena in Phoenix, which involved Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo’s bid to win a land auction in June.

The NHL has prepared a backup option that would sell the team to Ryan and Ashley Smith, owners of the NBA’s Utah Jazz, in a relocation move to Salt Lake City, multiple sources said.

That shadow plan includes the NHL preparing two schedules for next season: one involving the Coyotes in Arizona and another for the team in Utah, as Daily Faceoff first reported Wednesday.

An announcement on relocation could come as soon as this month, sources told ESPN.

Multiple NHL sources cautioned that it’s a fluid situation. Though it is common practice for the NHL to come up with contingencies in a situation that has this much uncertainty, it’s not a done deal.

Relocation would need to be approved by the NHL’s board of governors, which is next scheduled to meet in June. The board also could convene a meeting anytime before that over Zoom.

The Coyotes told ESPN they have no comment on reports the team could relocate to Salt Lake City starting next season. The NHL also had no comment.

Coyotes players are following along with the developments through media reports.

“We don’t know anything at all and haven’t heard anything,” one player told ESPN on Wednesday.

The Coyotes have played their home games at Mullett Arena, a 5,000-seat facility on the campus of Arizona State, since the 2022-23 season as they sought a way to build a new NHL-sized arena. According to Coyotes president Xavier Gutierrez, their deal with ASU is for three years plus two one-year options that could take them through the 2026-27 season.

A league source told ESPN that a Coyotes relocation could involve two separate transactions.

The NHL would purchase the Coyotes from Meruelo in a deal believed to be worth around $1 billion. This would mark the second time the NHL would have owned the Coyotes, buying the franchise from owner Jerry Moyes in 2009 after he filed for bankruptcy. The league owned and operated the Coyotes until 2013.

The league source said that after purchasing the team, the NHL would then sell the Coyotes to Smith at a price that could be as high as $1.3 billion — much higher than the $650 million expansion fee that the Seattle Kraken‘s owners paid in 2021 to join the league. The source said the NHL’s other 31 owners would split $300 million as part of the sale.

“The NHL has a deep-pocketed owner that desperately wants the team and that they want to have part of the family,” a well-plugged-in NHL source told ESPN.

There is a possibility that, as part of the deal, Meruelo would be first in line to purchase an NHL expansion team should the league decide to return to Arizona, according to sources. The Phoenix area has been a desirable one for the league as a television market and due to its proximity to other U.S.-based Western Conference teams. The area has also reported growth in youth hockey. Several Arizona-born players are now thriving in the NHL, including Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews.

While NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has stressed that the league is not looking to expand or relocate teams, the NHL has received overtures from several markets seeking to join the league. Chief among them is Salt Lake City, and sources say Bettman and Smith have built a trusting relationship over the last several years.

“The Utah expression of interest has been the most aggressive and has carried a lot of energy with it,” Bettman said at the NHL All-Star Game.

In January, Smith Entertainment Group formally requested that the NHL initiate an expansion process and bring a team to Salt Lake City. This week, Smith took to X, asking for name suggestions for a potential NHL franchise.

Smith told ESPN in January he didn’t care how he acquired the team, saying: “Our goal is NHL in Utah. And I’ll leave the rest up to Gary.”

The relocation plan, according to sources, would be for the Utah team to play out of the Delta Center, which Smith owns and is also home to the Jazz. The Delta Center has hosted NHL exhibition games five times, with another date scheduled for this coming fall.

However, sources told ESPN that NHL leadership has made it clear to Smith they would need hockey-specific renovations for the Delta Center to be a permanent NHL home, similar to Kraken owners’ renovations to Key Arena before the team arrived. Smith is prepared to help develop that.

“Utah is what I would call friendly for business,” Smith told ESPN in January. “I think that’s what’s helped us create a tech ecosystem.”

Smith is already receiving support from government leaders. A bill supporting an NHL arena and entertainment district in downtown Salt Lake City advanced through Utah State Senate and has approval from the governor, but has not yet passed. The bill includes a 0.5% sales tax increase to help with funding. That increase would go into effect by Jan. 1.

The NHL’s decision to develop two schedules comes as the Coyotes were in the midst of their latest plan to secure a new arena.

The Coyotes have been searching for a permanent home since their former owner took the franchise into bankruptcy in 2009. The team appeared to have stable footing at then-Gila River Arena, but the city of Glendale backed out of a multimillion-dollar lease agreement in 2015. The Coyotes had leased Gila River Arena on a yearly basis before the city terminated its lease following the 2021-22 season.

The team moved to Mullett Arena while seeking an arena solution in Tempe. The Coyotes believed they had one with a 16,000-seat arena in a proposed $2.1 billion entertainment district, but voters rejected that plan in May 2023.

The latest plan would not require a public vote. In March, the Arizona State Land Department Board of Appeals unanimously approved a $68.5 million appraisal of a 95-acre parcel of land in north Phoenix. The auction for that land is set for June 27.

If the Coyotes won the auction, Gutierrez said the team planned to start construction in the second quarter of 2025, adding, “We hope to drop the puck in the fall of 2027.” He said that was the same timeline the team had for its arena project in Tempe.

The last NHL relocation was when the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg in 2011. The confirmation of that move was made on May 31, 2011, at a news conference in Winnipeg.


Source link

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top