NHL News

NHL approves Coyotes’ move to Utah; Arizona expected to explore expansion club

The Arizona Coyotes' Dylan Guenther skates past fans as players warm up for a game against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday in Tempe, Arizona. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Arizona Coyotes are taking their hockey team to Utah.

As has been expected for months, the NHL Board of Governors voted to approve the sale of the franchise’s hockey assets to Ryan and Ashley Smith, owners of the NBA’s Utah Jazz, and Smith Entertainment Group (SEG). The group made an official request for an expansion team for Salt Lake City in January but later ceded to the NHL’s desire to relocate the Coyotes from Arizona.

The team will play in the Delta Center, currently the Jazz’s home arena. However, the NHL wants renovations to make the facility more hockey-friendly — especially if the club ends up playing there permanently. A new arena was part of SEG’s expansion team proposal, and it would also be used for a likely Winter Olympics in 2034.

“As everyone knows, Utah is a vibrant and thriving state, and we are thrilled to be a part of it,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “We are also delighted to welcome Ashley and Ryan Smith to the NHL family and know they will be great stewards of the game in Utah. We thank them for working so collaboratively with the League to resolve a complex situation in this unprecedented and beneficial way.

“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.”

General manager Bill Armstrong reportedly told Coyotes players and staff of the pending sale and move last weekend, when they demanded answers after news leaked to the media.

This is not expected to be the end of the NHL in Arizona. The sale of the Coyotes to SEG is for a reported $1 billion, and the agreement includes a guarantee to current team owner Alex Meruelo for an NHL expansion team if he can build a new arena within the next five years.

Meruelo will maintain business operations with plans for a $3 billion project in north Phoenix. Upon building the new arena and getting the expansion franchise, Meruelo will pay the $1 billion back to the league.

“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…

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