Arena-afflicted Coyotes bid adieu to Arizona


Arizona Coyotes will relocate to Utah Image: Visit Salt Lake

The inactive National Hockey League (NHL) team Arizona Coyotes are officially headed to Salt Lake City (Utah, US) starting next season, per league sources, after the NHL’s Board of Governors voted in favor of the sale and relocation of the team’s hockey assets on April 18th.

‘The Athletic’ stated that the vote was unanimous.

The deal, finalized at 2 am on the morning of April 18th marks the end of an often tumultuous 28-year run for the organization since being relocated South from Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada) in 1996. The Coyotes only qualified once for the Stanley Cup playoffs after an unexpected run to the 2012 Western Conference final, and that was during the expanded 2020 COVID-19 playoff tournament.

What doomed them was the inability of the ownership to secure an NHL-caliber arena, with voters in Tempe turning down three propositions last year to build a $2.1 billion entertainment district that would have included a new facility for the Coyotes.

New York (US)-based the National Hockey League (NHL) is a professional ice hockey league in North America comprising 33 teams – 26 in the United States and 7 in Canada. The Stanley Cup, the oldest professional sports trophy in North America, is awarded annually to the league playoff champion at the end of each season.

The Arizona Coyotes are an inactive professional ice hockey franchise based in the Phoenix (Arizona, US) Metropolitan area, which competed in the National Hockey League (NHL) as a member of the Central Division, the Pacific Division and the West Division in the Western Conference.

As part of the sale, the Coyotes franchise has officially been declared inactive.

Tim Martin, Vice-President (VP), Premium Partnerships, Arizona Coyotes, US, is a Member of Coliseum Global Sports Venue Alliance.

The 4,600-capacity Mullett Arena in Tempe, Arizona (US) till very recently served as their residence. The Arizona Coyotes mascot ‘Howler’ held up a sign reading ‘Thank You Fans!’ following the NHL final game against their peer team Edmonton Oilers (Canada) at the Mullett Arena on April 17th. The Arizona Coyotes are officially headed to Salt Lake City.

‘The Athletic’ further stated that the transaction is more complex than most. It saw the league act as a broker, with the Smith Entertainment Group buying the Coyotes’ hockey-related assets for $1.2 billion – a hybrid transaction with $1 billion going to the current Owner Alex Meruelo and $200 million earmarked as a relocation fee to be split among the existing NHL owners.

Birmingham (US)-based the Smith Entertainment Group is a boutique full-service entertainment company that inspires authentic moments blending artistry and brand immersion.

The team spent the past two seasons calling the 4,600-seat Mullett Arena on the campus of the Arizona State University home, playing its final game there on April 17th in front of a soldout crowd wearing white T-shirts – an ode to the “white-out” they had at the 16,210-capacity America West Arena (now the Footprint Center) in Phoenix, Arizona, for the first Coyotes home playoff game on April 20th, 1997 – during a 5-2 win over the Edmonton Oilers.

On April 18th, Meruelo admitted that it wasn’t feasible to have an NHL team continue to play its home games at the Mullet Arena but insisted that “this is not the end for NHL hockey in Arizona”.

Meruelo will retain the logos, marks and branding associated with the team and has been granted a five-year window to bring an expansion franchise back to the Phoenix area if he can get an arena built.

Averred Gary Bettman, NHL Commissioner, “The NHL’s belief in Arizona has never wavered. We thank Alex Meruelo for his commitment to the franchise and Arizona, and we fully support his ongoing efforts to secure a new home in the desert for the Coyotes. We also want to acknowledge the loyal hockey fans of Arizona, who have supported their team with dedication for nearly three decades while growing the game.”

The arrival of the NHL in Salt Lake City fulfills the vision of Ryan Smith, the billionaire owner of the National Basketball Association’s (NBA’s) Utah Jazz and the Major League Soccer’s (MLS’s) Real Salt Lake. He began selling Bettman on the merits of Utah back in 2022 and formally invited the league to open an expansion process on January 24th, saying that he was ready to host a team out of the 20,000-capacity Delta Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, as soon as the 2024-2025 seasons.

Smith instead bought the Arizona’s hockey-related assets. That includes players under contract or whose rights belong to the organization, the Head Coach André Tourigny and his coaching staff, the General Manager Bill Armstrong, and the scouting and management groups, plus the trainers and the other associated staff.

Remarked Ryan and Ashley Smith, Owners, Smith Entertainment Group, “We are honored to bring an NHL team to Utah and understand the responsibility we have as stewards of a new NHL franchise.

Commissioner Bettman conceived and proposed an ingenious plan that would allow us to acquire an NHL franchise while also helping to address and remedy an immediate need of the NHL.”

While the new Utah team – it will not be Salt Lake City, that much has been decided – will have to create its own logos, marks and branding, Smith isn’t in a rush to make those decisions, even if that means starting next season without a team nickname.

After news broke on the Board of Governors’ vote, Bettman welcomed Ryan and Ashley to the NHL family – “We thank them for working so collaboratively with the league to resolve a complex situation in this unprecedented and beneficial way.”

Utah will also begin play with a massive haul of Draft picks accumulated during an aggressive selloff of players that began after Meruelo purchased the Coyotes in 2019. The team owns seven selections over the first three rounds of the upcoming June Draft.

The NHL Draft is an annual event in which every franchise of the National Hockey League (NHL) selects the rights to available amateur ice hockey players who meet the Draft eligibility requirements (North American players 18-20 years old and Europeans of all ages entering the league for the first time, all others enter league as unrestricted free agents).

The NHL Draft this year will be held from June 28th-29th, 2024, and is likely to be held at the 20,000-capacity Sphere in Las Vegas.

The NHL Draft is held once every year after the conclusion of the previous season. During the Draft, the teams take turns selecting the amateur players from junior, collegiate, or European leagues.

With the sale approved, the players and the staff were invited to visit Salt Lake City early next week to tour facilities and get a feel for the region.

They’ll be calling it home by the Fall.

Concluded Erin Mendenhall, Salt Lake City Mayor, “This announcement is about more than bringing an NHL team to the Salt Lake City – it’s a defining moment in our trajectory, becoming a catalyst for a positive vision that integrates the community, connection and more possibilities for the families, the residents, and the visitors to experience our capital City.”

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