Arizona Coyotes NHL team relocating to Salt Lake City, Utah | Phoenix New Times

‘Salt Lake sucks’: Arizona Coyotes packing their pucks for Utah

How did we get here? Years of mismanagement. A bankruptcy. Arenas that suck. Billionaires with bad karma. Take your pick.
Howler the Coyote hugs it out during the Arizona Coyotes' Fan Fest in 2019 at Desert Diamond Arena.
Howler the Coyote hugs it out during the Arizona Coyotes' Fan Fest in 2019 at Desert Diamond Arena. Benjamin Leatherman

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Editor's note: This story was updated to add that the NHL approved the move on Thursday and include reaction from the league and team owners.


From Winnipeg to Phoenix. A bitter divorce in Glendale. Rejection in Tempe. And now, the troubled yet somehow beloved Arizona Coyotes are ending their nearly 28-year relationship with the Valley and moving to Salt Lake City.

The NHL Board of Governors approved the move on Thursday.

The relocation is really a story of how fans love to hate the team’s billionaire owner, Alex Meruelo, but love the NHL franchise, even without it ever advancing to the Stanley Cup finals.

On Wednesday, the Coyotes gave fans something to celebrate, defeating the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 in a game at Mullett Arena, which was packed to its 4,600-seat capacity. Players signed jerseys and any swag they could get their hands on to give to fans, who stuck around long after the game to savor the moment.

That was, of course, after fans vented their frustration, breaking out into chants of “Salt Lake sucks” at least three times during the game.

Afterwards, the team posted a goodbye to social media: “To the most loyal & amazing fans… we love you.”

What happens next?

The fat lady is singing for the Mullets. NHL owners approved the sale on Thursday. Ahead of the sale, the move was likely to see the league purchase the Coyotes for $1.2 billion, move the team to Salt Lake City and flip the franchise to Ryan Smith, a billionaire who owns the NBA’s Utah Jazz. Meruelo, proving again that billionaires fail upward, will pocket $1 billion from the sale and retain rights to start an NHL expansion team within five years.

“We are honored to bring an NHL team to Utah and understand the responsibility we have as stewards of a new NHL franchise,” Ryan and Ashley Smith said in a statement on Thursday. “This is a transformative day for our state and our fans."

Meruelo is likely to continue with efforts to purchase a 100-acre piece of desert land near Loop 101 and Scottsdale Road in north Phoenix. An auction for the property opens in June with bids starting at $68.5 million. Meruelo wants to create a massive entertainment district that includes an arena, something the team tried — and failed — to convince Tempe voters to OK in 2023.

Scottsdale Mayor David Ortega threw cold water on the proposal in an open letter on April 8. He then walked back his criticism, but the damage was done.

Meruelo said Thursday that he's committed to building a "first-class sports arena."

“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,” Meruelo said.

“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," he added.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league, which ran the Coyotes from 2009 to 2013, remains committed to Arizona.

“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.”
click to enlarge Angus MacDonald of Gilbert
Angus MacDonald of Gilbert sports Coyotes face paint during Fan Fest in 2019. Sorry, kid. Pro sports is a tough business.
Benjamin Leatherman

What happened on Wednesday?

As word spread that the game was likely to be the last for the Coyotes in the Valley, ticket prices spiked. Fans got emotional, organizing a white out to show their love. And Meruelo was nowhere to be found.

“For now, the Coyotes are still Arizona’s team for one more day,” Josh Doan told Cronkite News. He’s the son of Shane Doan, the 21-year NHL veteran who spent his career with the Coyotes. The rink inside the Ice Den, the team’s longtime practice facility in Scottsdale, is named for him.

Also on Wednesday, Smith pretty much sealed the deal in remarks to the Sports Business Journal during an event in Los Angeles.

"There's no secret on what's out there online. Normally, not everything on the internet is true, but in this case, it's pretty true," Smith said.

click to enlarge Coyotes head coach André Tourigny
Say it ain't so, André Tourigny.
Christian Petersen / Getty

How did we get to relocation?

It was, after all, just April 4 when the Coyotes released a glitzy promotional video about a new arena, seemingly cementing their future in the Valley. There was no hint of what had to be furious behind-the-scenes maneuvering by team brass and the NHL plotting the quick exit from Arizona.

How did we get to this point? Years of mismanagement. A bankruptcy. Lack of playoff success. Ill-suited arenas in which to play. Billionaires with bad karma. Take your pick.

The Coyotes were born of a failed World Hockey Association in 1996 and struggled to find a home in the Valley. They played at Footprint Center, then moved to Desert Diamond Arena in Glendale before landing in 2022 at Mullett Arena, which isn't equipped to help a professional team generate the level of revenue needed to keep it afloat.

It didn’t help that the Coyotes aren’t the Diamondbacks or the Suns.

Or maybe it’s because we ranked André Tourigny, the Coyotes head coach, as only the second-sexiest man in Arizona sports. Sorry, bro.
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