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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Hello, Goodbye: Coyotes’ Future in Flux As Relocation Rumors Ramp Up

  • The league reportedly has developed a contingency plan to move the team to Salt Lake City.
  • The situation remains very fluid and uncertain, and it has also affected team play.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Despite the Coyotes’ continual efforts to secure a long-term future in their current market, the team’s local situation is seemingly devolving in near–real time, perhaps marking the beginning of the end of a 28-year stint in the desert. 

Just since Monday, when Scottdale mayor David Ortega blasted the team’s plans to build a $3 billion arena and mixed-use development in north Phoenix, the Coyotes have been beset with a dizzying series of developments, many of which suggest a lack of confidence in the franchise. 

Among the latest events to surround the team:

  • The NHL has developed a contingency plan to move the team to Salt Lake City, according to multiple reports, a market that has openly coveted landing a team. In addition to drafting an alternate schedule for the 2024–25 season that would involve the team being placed in Utah, multiple reports also pointed to a two-stage process in which Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo would sell the franchise back to the NHL for $1 billion, and then Ryan Smith, owner of the NBA’s Jazz and co-owner of two pro soccer teams in Salt Lake City, would buy the team for as much as $1.3 billion. Other NHL team owners would split the difference. 
  • Smith went as far to post a survey on X in which he is soliciting potential names for an NHL team in Utah. 
  • NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly issued a statement that certainly didn’t throw any cold water on the Salt Lake City chatter, instead saying, “The league is continuing to work on a solution to what has been a challenging and difficult situation. But we are not in a position to comment beyond that.” 
  • Before Wednesday’s game in Vancouver, Coyotes coach André Tourigny (above, standing) said relocation rumors surrounding the team since January helped prompt a 14-game losing streak and derail the season. “We cannot pretend it did not affect our team,” Tourigny said. “That had a huge impact on our season. We did not deal with it the right away at the time.”
  • Ortega walked back some of his prior opposition to the Arizona proposal, saying he’s now in favor of the project, so long as its primary access point faces Phoenix instead of Scottsdale, in order to alleviate traffic concerns. Ortega’s recommendation would be a shift from how the planned development was presented in original renderings.

Though a relocation to Utah is far from certain, the rising noise surrounding the Coyotes perhaps prompted the team to post a video on X on Wednesday in which the team reiterated it was “committed to keeping Coyotes hockey in the desert and building an arena in Phoenix.” The Coyotes are aiming to win a June 27 auction for a 110-acre parcel of state-owned land in north Phoenix, initially appraised at $68.5 million.

The various moves and comments raise plenty of questions, including why the NHL would want to trade down from the No. 11 media market to the No. 27 one, before even knowing what will happen with the land auction. The Delta Center, where the Coyotes would play temporarily in a move to Utah, also was not designed for hockey, a facility situation that impaired the team’s early years in what is now the Footprint Center in Phoenix. But such is the uncertainty and fluidity currently surrounding the Coyotes. 

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