NHL Approves Coyotes’ Move to Utah

NHL franchises relocating to a new city is nothing new. Arizona gained an NHL franchise in 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets packed their bags and relocated to the desert. Before Thursday’s news of the Arizona Coyotes moving to Utah beginning next season, the two most recent franchises to switch cities were the Hartford Whalers in 1997 — became the Carolina Hurricanes — and the Atlanta Thrashers in 2011 — became the Winnipeg Jets.

According to sources, Ryan and Ashley Smith of Smith Entertainment Group bought the Arizona Coyotes — and all of its existing hockey assets — for $1.2 billion from Alex Meruelo. In 2019, Meruelo bought the Coyotes for $300 million. However, his inability to lock in a long-term arena in Arizona resulted in the league losing patience and thus greenlighting the sale to the Smiths. The Smiths also own the Utah Jazz.

“I mean, if you would’ve told me at the beginning of the year that this is where we’d be, I’d say you were crazy,” Ryan Smith told ESPN. “It was more of: ‘Can you guys pull this off? Can you really pull it off?’ It looks like [the Coyotes’] situation’s going to be a little longer than everyone anticipated, and [the NHL] kind of had an issue. So our response is very much like, we want to be part of the league. We think we bring a lot. We think we can add a lot. We think we can give back more than we take and help grow the sport. It’s unprecedented. This is a different process. I don’t think anyone’s ever done it or seen it. But we’re in. We’re all-in. And I have a lot of faith in the people in Utah and how they show up for things.”

Following the sale being approved Thursday at a virtual NHL board of governors meeting, commissioner Gary Bettman released a statement:

“As everyone knows, Utah is a vibrant and thriving state, and we are thrilled to be a part of it,” Bettman said. “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.”

While the Coyotes are on the move to Utah, the team may not be gone for long. According to sources, Meruelo will maintain the team name, intellectual property and historical record of the Coyotes. The former owner will have five years to build a new arena and bring a team back to the desert.