Arizona Coyotes Relocation to Salt Lake City is Increasingly Likely

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In a shocking change of events, the Arizona Coyotes stay in the Arizona desert may soon be coming to an end. 

As first reported by professional hockey insider Frank Seravalli, the Coyotes are close to being sold to a Salt Lake City group led by Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith. Seravalli noted “significant progress” has been made between the National Hockey League, Arizona’s current ownership, and Smith on “the frame of an agreement” to bring the NHL to Utah. Seravalli’s initial report has since been corroborated by hockey insiders Pierre LeBrun and ESPN’s Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski.

What About the ‘Yotes New Arena?

News of the potential move comes just days after current Coyotes ownership unveiled an elaborate plan to build a new arena in the greater Phoenix area.

The proposed new arena would sit just within the Phoenix city limits near the border with neighboring Scottsdale. Despite the fancy unveiling, the Coyotes would have to clear multiple hurdles to make the new area a reality. 

One, the land for the proposed arena is currently owned by the State of Arizona and would have to be “purchased” through a land auction. Sure, the state and Coyotes could broker a deal where they “win” the auction, but there’s a possibility they could be outbid for the parcel. Two, there has already been massive push back from neighboring Scottsdale regarding the infrastructure that would potentially be involved in building the new area. Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega has called for the project to move further west and will not provide water access to the Coyotes. 

The northeast Phoenix plan came to be after voters in Tempe voted to reject a proposed $2.1 billion entertainment district last May. The northeast Phoenix plan was seen as a “last chance” for the franchise. The Coyotes are currently on their third arena in their 28-years in the desert. The ‘Yotes played parts of eight seasons in downtown Phoenix at the now Footprint Center before moving to Gila River Arena in Maricopa County. The team famously lost their lease at the Gila River Arena following the 2022 NHL season and has played the past two seasons in a 5,000-seat arena on the campus of Arizona State University.

Hockey in Utah?

Professional hockey in Utah is nothing new. In fact, professional hockey has been played in Salt Lake City since 1969 when the Salt Lake City Golden Eagles joined the Western Hockey League (WHL). The Golden Eagles played in the WHL and its successor leagues, the Central Hockey League (CHL) and the International Hockey League (IHL) until the end of the 1994 season when the franchise was moved to Detroit. 

Salt Lake City wasn’t without hockey for long. 

The Utah Grizzlies began operations for the 1994-95 IHL season taking over the role as Salt Lake’s team. The Grizzlies would become a fixture for the next decade in the IHL and the American Hockey League (AHL) winning a Turner Cup Championship in their first year. The Grizzlies were one of the better performing minor league teams at the box office drawing an average of around 7,000 fans to the Delta Center and E Center, respectively.  Despite a rabid fan base, the AHL Grizzlies left for Cleveland after the 2004 AHL season. 

Once again, Salt Lake City wasn’t without hockey for long. 

A revived Utah Grizzlies team began play in the then East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) for the 2005-2006 season. The ECHL Grizzlies went on a run that included 11 consecutive Kelly Cup playoff appearances. Like their AHL successors, the ECHL version proved to be a box office draw with an average attendance of nearly 5,800 fans per game.

So, the NHL Utah Grizzlies?

Not necessarily!

The ‘Yotes will reportedly be getting a rebrand if/when they make the trek north to Utah. Smith has taken to Twitter/X asking fans for their input on a new identity for the team when they land in Salt Lake City. As of now, there’s been no hint at what identity the team would take on in Utah. The team will reportedly play for a few seasons at the former Delta Center before a new arena is built in downtown Salt Lake City.

What’s Next?

Seravalli notes that nothing is official. The NHL Board of Governors are not set to meet in person until June but could call an emergency meeting to ratify a sale and relocation of the Coyotes. If and when that happens, approval of Smith’s purchase of the franchise is expected to be discussed and approved. An announcement of the sale and relocation of the Coyotes could come as soon as April 19, the day after the completion of the 2023-24 NHL regular season.


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