NHL: Arizona Coyotes are officially headed to Salt Lake City

Apr 18, 2024, 1:12 PM

Seattle Kraken Arizona Coyotes NHL Salt Lake...

Nick Bjugstad of the Arizona Coyotes skates during an NHL game on Oct. 27, 2023. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — The Arizona Coyotes of the NHL are officially headed to Salt Lake City.

The NHL Board of Governors voted unanimously Thursday to approve a $1.2 billion sale from Alex Meruelo to Utah Jazz owners Ryan and Ashley Smith, clearing the way for the franchise’s move to Salt Lake City next season.

The deal includes a provision for Arizona to get an expansion team if a new arena is built within the next five years. The deal will be facilitated through the NHL, with $200 million going to league owners as a relocation fee.

“We expressed our interest publicly with the NHL,” Ryan Smith told The Associated Press. “It’s probably been two years where we’ve said, ‘Hey, look, we really believe Utah can be an incredible hockey town.’ You look at all the demographics, we were just talking about the Olympics and you think about the Olympics coming back. It all kind of made sense.”

From KSL Sports in Salt Lake: League approves new NHL team In Utah

Smith will take over the franchise’s hockey operations and Meruelo will maintain his business operations in Arizona in an effort to secure and develop a tract of land for a new arena in north Phoenix.

Meruelo also retains ownership of the Tucson Roadrunners, the franchise’s AHL affiliate, and hopes to move them to Mullett Arena, the Coyotes’ temporary home shared with Arizona State University the past two seasons. He plans to pay back the $1 billion once an expansion team is approved.

“The NHL’s belief in Arizona has never wavered,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “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.”

Meruelo will retain the Coyotes’ name, logo and trademark, so Smith’s group will have to rename the team.

From Arizona Sports: Coyotes will move from Arizona to Utah

“We’ll start with Utah on the jersey and we’ll figure out the logo and everything else, and what it is that we are, but that’s a one-way door,” Smith said. “You’ve got to do it once. And with this timeline, I think both the league feels better and we feel better to just run the process and then we’ll drop it when we drop it.”

The sale ends the Coyotes’ long-running bid to find a permanent home.

The franchise shared an arena with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns after relocating from Winnipeg, moved to Glendale and ended up at Mullett Arena when the city of Glendale backed out of a lease agreement.

Meruelo had been adamant about not wanting to sell the team despite receiving numerous offers since buying the team in 2019. When an auction for the land in north Phoenix got pushed back to June, the Coyotes had no guarantee a deal for a new arena would go through.

With the NHL and players’ association hesitant for the Coyotes to play at 5,000-seat Mullett Arena for a third season, Meruelo opted to sell the team, his focus shifting to the new arena and expansion team.

“I agree with Commissioner Gary Bettman and the National Hockey League, that it is simply unfair to continue to have our players, coaches, hockey front office, and the NHL teams they compete against, spend several more years playing in an arena that is not suited for NHL hockey,” Meruelo said in a statement. “But this is not the end for NHL hockey in Arizona. I have negotiated the right to reactivate the team within the next five years, and have retained ownership of the beloved Coyotes name, brand and logo. I remain committed to this community and to building a first-class sports arena and entertainment district without seeking financial support from the public.”

The Coyotes played their final game in Arizona on Wednesday night, a 5-2 win over the playoff-bound Edmonton Oilers. The players celebrated on the ice with team personnel and a few handed their sticks over the glass to fans, who chanted “We love you Coy-otes!”

“It’s tough to take it all in,” Coyotes rookie forward Logan Cooley said. “A lot of noise, a lot of personal stuff and obviously the organization, you hear you’re going one spot then you’re going to the next spot. We’ve done a good job in this locker room focusing on keeping out the noise and getting better as a team, striving to be the team we want to be one day.”

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this story.

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