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NHL Board of Governors approves sale of Coyotes, relocation to Utah

© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Heartbreaking news to hockey fans from across Arizona, the NHL Board of Governors has accepted the sale and relocation of the Coyotes to Utah.

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The franchise will begin play in Salt Lake City in the 2024-25 season and is now owned/controlled by Smith Entertainment Group, headed by Utah Jazz owners Ryan and Ashley Smith. The team will play at Delta Center, home of the Jazz.

Revealed by ESPN NHL insider Emily Kaplan, the sale of the Coyotes from owner Alex Meruelo to SEG was worth $1.2 billion.

“Ryan and Ashley Smith of Smith Entertainment Group bought the team and its existing hockey assets for $1.2 billion from Alex Meruelo, sources told ESPN,” Kaplan said.

Coyote Comeback?

Apr 17, 2024; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Arizona Coyotes fans bang on the glass during the final minute of the game against the Edmonton Oilers at Mullett Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

According to a press release, the NHL did say the Coyotes franchise can return at a later date if certain criteria are met by Meruelo.

“The Board approved a plan that renders the Arizona Coyotes franchise inactive, with a right to reactivate if owner Alex Meruelo has fully constructed a new, state-of-the-art facility appropriate for an NHL team within five years,” the press release explained.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman provided a statement about Arizona when the news was released, reaffirming that the league is open to a possible return of the Coyotes.

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

‘Yotes Arena Drama Closes

For the past two seasons, Arizona has played at the 4,600-seated Mullett Arena, the home of Arizona State University hockey. Beforehand, the Coyotes called Gila River Arena (now Desert Diamond Arena) home in Glendale, though both the city and team had a rocky relationship.

From uncertainty surrounding the Coyotes due to multiple failed ownerships over the years to unpaid bills resulting in Glendale threatening to lock the team out of the arena, it was only a matter of time until both sides parted ways.

In 2021, Glendale terminated the lease of the Coyotes after both sides couldn’t reach an agreement, forcing the team to look elsewhere to play. The ‘Yotes have played at Mullett Arena since then as a “temporary solution” but nothing materialized after the $2.1 billion arena district in Tempe failed.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, Meruelo intended to bid on a 95-acre parcel of land up for auction in north Phoenix on June 27, wanting to build an arena district similar to the one in Tempe.

With no clear timetable of when this new arena would be built and the prospect of playing even more years at a college arena, both the league and Meruelo believed it was best for the team to move into a more stable situation.

“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,” said Meruelo. “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.”

Apr 17, 2024; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Arizona Coyotes fans in the crowd hold signs for the players following the game against the Edmonton Oilers at Mullett Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona State Land Department Board of Appeals agreed in March that the site would have a $68.5 million appraisal. There is no word if there will be other competitors against Meruelo or if he’ll be the lone bidder.

Time will tell if Meruelo will indeed show up to the auction, be able to revive the Coyotes and regain the trust of the fans who are severly hurt by this news.

But one thing is for certain, there will not be NHL hockey in the desert for the foreseeable future.

Coyotes beat Oilers 5-2 in emotional, final game as a franchise

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Reporter Alec Cipollini covers Phoenix Sports News for Burn City Sports. You can follow him on his X account, @AlecCipollini

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