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

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

Although the NHL remains convinced that a franchise should be located in Arizona, the league is skeptical of the Coyotes’ new plan to build an arena in Phoenix, which involved Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo’s attempt to win a sale to the 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 move to Salt Lake City, multiple sources said.

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

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

Multiple NHL sources have cautioned that this is a fluid situation. While it is common for the NHL to plan for contingencies in such an uncertain situation, this is not a done deal.

The relocation must be approved by the NHL Board of Governors, whose next meeting is scheduled for June. The board could also call a meeting at any time before that via Zoom.

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

Coyotes players are following 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 Arizona State’s campus, since the 2022-23 season as they sought to build a new NHL-sized arena. According to Coyotes president Xavier Gutierrez, their contract 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 move by the Coyotes could involve two separate transactions.

The NHL is reportedly purchasing the Coyotes from Meruelo in a deal estimated to be worth around $1 billion. This would be the second time the NHL has owned the Coyotes, purchasing 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 for a price that could reach $1.3 billion, far higher than the $650 million expansion fee. dollars the Seattle Kraken owners paid in 2021 to join. the league. The source said the NHL’s 31 other owners would share $300 million in the sale.

“The NHL has a deep-pocketed owner who desperately wants the team and wants to have a piece of the family,” a knowledgeable NHL source told ESPN.

It’s possible that, as part of the deal, Meruelo could be the first to purchase an NHL expansion team if the league decides to return to Arizona, according to sources. The Phoenix area is a popular region for the league as a television market and because of its proximity to other Western Conference teams based in the United States. The region 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 move teams, the NHL has received offers from several markets looking to join the league. Chief among them is Salt Lake City, and sources say Bettman and Smith have built a trusting relationship over the past few years.

“Utah’s expression of interest was the most aggressive and carried a lot of energy,” Bettman said during the NHL All-Star Game.

In January, Smith Entertainment Group officially requested that the NHL begin an expansion process and bring a team to Salt Lake City. This week, Smith spoke to X to ask for name suggestions for a possible NHL franchise.

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

The plan for the move, according to sources, would be for the Utah team to play at 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 planned for next fall.

However, sources told ESPN that NHL executives made it clear to Smith that they would require hockey-specific renovations for the Delta Center to become a permanent NHL home, similar to the renovations being done by the owners of the Kraken at Key Arena before the team’s arrival. Smith is ready to contribute to this development.

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

Smith already has the support of government leaders. A bill supporting an NHL stadium and entertainment district in downtown Salt Lake City passed the Utah State Senate and received the governor’s approval, but did not not yet adopted. The bill includes a 0.5% sales tax increase to help with funding. This increase would come into effect on January 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 looking for a permanent home since their previous owner bankrupted the franchise in 2009. The team appeared to have a stable base at the then-Gila River Arena, but the city of Glendale passed on it. a multimillion-dollar lease deal in 2015. The Coyotes had leased Gila River Arena on an annual basis before the city ended its lease following the 2021-22 season.

The team moved to Mullett Arena while searching for an arena solution in Tempe. The Coyotes thought they would have 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 Department of State Land Appeals Board unanimously approved a $68.5 million assessment for a 95-acre parcel of land north of Phoenix. The auction of this land is scheduled for June 27.

If the Coyotes win the bid, Gutierrez said the team plans to begin construction in the second quarter of 2025, adding, “We hope to drop the puck in the fall of 2027.” He said that’s the same timeline the team had for its arena project in Tempe.

The NHL’s last relocation occurred when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg in 2011. Confirmation of this move was made on May 31, 2011 at a press conference in Winnipeg.

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