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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Salt Lake City About to Land NHL’s Coyotes (Minus Their Name)

  • Jazz owner Ryan Smith appears days away from closing a $1 billion deal, according to sources.
  • Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo to keep Coyotes name, work toward a new arena for expansion team.
Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Smith’s two-year quest to land Salt Lake City an NHL franchise will likely conclude later this week, although it won’t be the expansion team his Smith Entertainment Group lobbied for publicly in January. 

Instead, it will be the Arizona Coyotes—or at least the players, coaches and some other staffers of the franchise that has called the Valley of the Sun home since 1996. Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo, Smith, and the NHL are nearing the end of negotiations of a $1 billion sale of the team that will play under a new name at Salt Lake City’s Delta Center starting next season, sources with knowledge of the transaction tell Front Office Sports

Meruelo keeps the Coyotes name and will have five years to build an NHL arena with the league’s promise of making the Phoenix market the home of an expansion team, the sources confirmed. SportsNet was the first outlet to report the setup. 

“I understand and empathize with the concerns of our fans, our community, our partners, our players, our front office, and all of our team members,” Meruelo said in a statement over the weekend after Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong’s chat with players Friday about the pending relocation leaked.  

The Coyotes are wrapping up their second season playing in Arizona State’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena and the team faced at least two more seasons at the facility. That situation, despite upgrades the Coyotes made, proved untenable for the players and other owners, leading to this conscious uncoupling. 

Meruelo, however, hasn’t given up on the Phoenix market. The Coyotes’ quest to secure a plot of land in north Phoenix that goes up for auction in June will move forward, a plan team execs shifted to after three ballot measures toward an arena development in Tempe were voted down last May. 

As the Coyotes lay dormant, there’s likely to be a push by Meruelo to continue to support area youth hockey, which has produced NHLers Auston Matthews, brothers Matthew and Brady Tkachuk, and former U.S. Women’s National Team player (and current Coyotes broadcaster) Lyndsey Fry. Meruelo will also keep the Tucson Roadrunners and the Associated Press reported there are plans to potentially move the AHL franchise to Mullett Arena.

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