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Coyotes arena situation remains a concern with no plan yet on where to play next season

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TORONTO (AP) — Past the midway point of their second season in a 5,000-seat arena, the Arizona Coyotes still do not have a concrete plan for a long-term home.

While NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman voiced optimism about owner Alex Meruelo getting something done to keep the team in the Phoenix area, Players' Association executive director Marty Walsh expressed concern.

“Unfortunately, we’ve had two unofficial deadlines to come up with some movement and we’ve gone past both of those,” Walsh said Friday at All-Star Weekend. “If there’s no plan in Arizona, I would encourage a move to another location, absolutely.”

The NHL has worked to keep the Coyotes in the area through multiple ownership changes and a game of musical rinks that have landed them on Arizona State's campus in Tempe. They have an agreement to play at Mullett Arena for the 2024-25 season with a possible extension, but player complaints about the situation make it clear the league and union want an alternative.

Time is running out to make that happen.

“The next deadline for me is tomorrow,” Walsh said. "It’s now. It’s right now.”

Bettman said he was not in the business of contradicting owners and was trusting Meruelo.

“Alex Meruelo, as recently as last week, told me he was certain he was going to get this done,” Bettman said. “I’m both hopeful and reasonably confident that he’s going to do what he says.”

After Tempe voters rejected an arena referendum last year, the Coyotes announced in June they had identified six possible sites that would not need approval and in August said Meruelo had executed a letter of intent to buy a piece of land for a potential arena in Mesa. Bettman said Meruelo was focused on one property and that the league was focused on it with him.

The Coyotes' instability comes amid significant interest from the owners of the NBA's Utah Jazz to put an NHL team in Salt Lake City. Bettman said Ryan Smith and his group are “very enthused about the possibility."

“If Utah’s the place, Utah’s the place,” Walsh said. “But I’d encourage it. I haven’t seen the data to back it up if Utah’s the place. I’m sure that the league has information on what markets work really well. I know Utah is a growing region ... a lot of people are going there. It could be another (Vegas) Golden Knights or Seattle Kraken.”

PERRY GRIEVANCE?

The NHL has extended the deadline for Corey Perry and the union to decide whether to file a grievance against the Chicago Blackhawks for terminating his contract. The team put Perry on unconditional waivers and terminated his deal in late November after saying he engaged in unacceptable conduct that violated his contract and club policies.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said a grievance has been “threatened.” Walsh said talks with Perry's camp were ongoing, hence the 60-day window being pushed back.

“We’re having those conversations now internally, how to proceed,” Walsh said. “The timeline ran out, so we wanted to make sure we had time to continue forward, in terms of launching a grievance.”

Bettman, who met with Perry after the veteran winger said he was seeking help for alcohol abuse, said he had no issues with how the Blackhawks handled the situation. Perry has since signed with Edmonton and is expected to play for the Oilers after the All-Star break.

NEW TOURNAMENT

In addition to announcing a deal to send players to the Olympics in 2026 and 2030, the NHL on Friday unveiled the “4 Nations Face-off” to take place in February 2025 involving the U.S., Canada, Sweden and Finland. Each team will play three round-robin games, taking place in one city in each of the countries, with the top two advancing to a one-game final.

With not enough time to pull together something bigger, this was the solution to getting some international play on the calendar before the next Olympics in Milan, with the aim of holding the next World Cup of Hockey in 2028.

“The notion was let’s do a little bit of international competition as a little bit of an appetizer,” Bettman said. “We wanted to do something, but we couldn’t get ready in a year for a full-blown World Cup. This gets us started and puts us on a schedule that I think everybody is not just excited about but really comfortable with.”

The mini tournament will be missing the likes of Germany’s Leon Draisaitl, Czechia’s David Pastrnak, Switzerland’s Roman Josi and every Russian player in a league full of them. Russia's war in Ukraine has complicated plans, which was originally to hold a World Cup this month.

“I think we’ve been pretty open about the fact that we don’t condone or support the aggression in Ukraine, but we support our Russian players and we certainly don’t hold what’s going on geopolitically against our individual Russian players," Daly said. "But we thought given the totality of the circumstances, where the IOC is, where the IIHF is, that it probably wasn’t the right time to include the Russians as a team.”

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