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NHL working on contingency plan to potentially sell, relocate Arizona Coyotes to Salt Lake City: report

NHL working on contingency plan to potentially sell, relocate Arizona Coyotes to Salt Lake City: report

Tooba Shakir 2 months ago 0 1

The Coyotes’ future in Arizona is in doubt. Last May, voters rejected the NHL franchise’s plan for a multibillion-dollar entertainment district in Tempe.

The team continues to play home games at Mullett Arena on the campus of Arizona State University during the ongoing 2023-24 season. The facility can only seat 5,000 spectators. The team also played in the arena throughout the 2022-23 season.

Amid the uncertainly surrounding the team’s future, the NHL appears to be working on a contingency plan that could result in the franchise’s relocation to Salt Lake City by as early as next season, ESPN reported.

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View of an Arizona Coyotes jersey

View of an Arizona Coyotes logo on a jersey worn by a member of the team during the third period at the Bell Centre in Montreal on Oct. 20, 2022. (David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports)

After prospective owner Ryan Smith solicited earlier this week suggestions for a team name, word emerged Wednesday that the league has been working on contingency plans in case the Coyotes move this summer. Smith also owns the Utah Jazz.

The NHL has been working on two schedule drafts for next season in case the team is in Arizona or playing under a different name in Utah, a person familiar with the planning told The Associated Press.

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The schedule for next season is usually released in late June, after the Stanley Cup is handed out, around the draft and before free agency opens July 1. Commissioner Gary Bettman, when asked last month about the schedule and the possible contingency plans, said only, “We still have some time.”

While the NHL, Coyotes and Smith Entertainment Group declined comment on the dual-schedule report, other machinations are underway to prepare for possible relocation.

If a sale to Smith happens soon, it would come after months of speculation after he announced in January not only his interest in having an NHL club in Salt Lake City, but the ability to make that happen immediately. Smith’s group asked at the time for the initiation of an expansion process, something multiple groups in Atlanta are also eager for.

General view of Mullett Arena

General view outside of Mullett Arena before the NHL game between the Arizona Coyotes and the Winnipeg Jets on October 28, 2022 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The Coyotes have seemingly been on shaky ground since the team’s former majority owner Jerry Moyes drove the franchise into bankruptcy in 2009. The team appeared to gain some stability when they played at the then-Gila River Arena, which was located just outside of Phoenix in Glendale. However, the city eventually pulled out of a lease agreement in 2015 and the Coyotes lease was terminated after the 2021-22 season.

The team’s latest plans revolve around a 95-acre parcel of land in north Phoenix. The Arizona State Land Department selected June 27 as the date for auction of the land. The starting bid has been set at $68.5 million.

Coyotes logo

The Arizona Coyotes kachina logo at center ice before the NHL hockey game between the St. Louis Blues and the Arizona Coyotes on Oct. 18, 2021 at Gila River Arena in Glendale, Arizona. (Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

If the Coyotes end up winning the auction, Coyotes team president Xavier Gutierrez said construction would likely begin sometime next year. “We hope to drop the puck in the fall of 2027,” Gutierrez noted.

An arena already exists in downtown Salt Lake City, and the Jazz ownership plan calls for using the Delta Center as a temporary home for a hockey team until a new building is constructed. That group has been talking to the league since 2022.

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“During conversations over the course of the past two years, we have been impressed by Ryan and Ashley Smith’s commitment to their community and their passion and vision for Utah, not only as a hockey market but as a preeminent sports and entertainment destination,” the NHL said in a statement in January. “Utah is a promising market, and we look forward to continuing our discussions.”

The NHL has said it has no current plans to expand beyond 32 teams, despite speculation over potential additions in Salt Lake City, Atlanta and Houston.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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