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NHL Board of Governors votes to approve sale of Coyotes, relocation to Salt Lake City


The National Hockey League’s 28-year stay in the state of Arizona is officially over.

The NHL’s Board of Governors voted unanimously on Thursday to approve the sale and relocation of the franchise to Salt Lake City for the start of the 2024-2025 season.

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

“The NHL’s belief in Arizona has never wavered. 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.”

As part of the deal, ownership of the team will be assumed by Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith.

“We are honored to bring an NHL team to Utah and understand the responsibility we have as stewards of a new NHL franchise,” said Ryan and Ashley Smith, owners of Smith Entertainment Group in a statement. “This is a transformative day for our state and our fans. Our intention had always been to pursue an expansion team. Commissioner Bettman conceived and proposed an ingenious plan that would allow us to acquire an NHL franchise while also helping to address and remedy an immediate need of the NHL. When he approached us and asked us for help resolving this situation, we made the bold decision to introduce a new franchise in Utah, fully understanding that we are stepping up to do something in a time frame and way that has never been done before in professional sports under these circumstances."

“We are committed to building a Stanley Cup contending team and are thrilled to welcome incredible players, coaches, staff, and their families to Utah. Today is a great day for Utah, for hockey, and for building a legacy that will have a lasting impact for generations to come.”

The team is expected play out of the Delta Center, the current home of the Jazz. The venue played host to the hockey competition at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

The move ends years of uncertainty surrounding the franchise and its future in Arizona and wraps up a nearly three-decade existence of mostly poor on-ice results and chronic mismanagement over the course of multiple owners.

The Coyotes originally came into existence in time for the 1996-1997 season when Minnesota-based businessmen Steven Gluckstern and Richard Burke purchased the Winnipeg Jets and moved them to Phoenix’s America West Arena and renamed the team.

In 2001, Burke bought out Gluckstern’s share and sold the team to local real estate developer Steve Ellman, who brought aboard Wayne Gretzky as a minority investor. Gretzky would go on to serve as head coach of the team for four seasons beginning in 2005.

With the Phoenix arena being ill-suited for hockey and no movement made on proposals to improve sightlines, the team was moved to Glendale in the winter of 2003. Two years later, Ellman sold the team to trucking magnate Jerry Moyes.

In 2008, the Coyotes’ financial struggles became public as did the revelation that the league had taken over operations of the team. In the spring of 2009, Moyes put the team into bankruptcy. This began a months-long legal process to determine the team’s future.

A prospective bid from former Research in Motion chairman Jim Balsillie was ruled ineligible by a judge who ruled that the bankruptcy wasn’t enough to negate the league’s relocation policy with Balsillie planning to move the team to Hamilton, Ont.’s Copps Coliseum. The process concluded with the team and its assets sold to the league, who also assumed all of the Coyotes’ existing debts and renegotiated a lease with the city of Glendale.

From the league’s purchase of the team in 2009 to its sale to IceArizona, led by George Gosbee and Anthony LeBlanc in 2013, a series of potential sales fell through with the team continuing to lose money. The sale to IceArizona came with a 15-year lease renewal with the city of Glendale.

The team rebranded as the Arizona Coyotes in time for the 2014-2015 season. That fall, a 51 per-cent controlling interest in the club was sold to Andrew Barroway, a Philadelphia-based businessman. The following summer, the city of Glendale voted to terminate the 15-year lease. An agreement between the team and the city was reached for a two-year lease. In the fall of 2016, the team announced plans for a new arena in Tempe that would be open in time for the 2019-2020 season in conjunction with Arizona State University (ASU), but the deal collapsed the following year when ASU pulled out of its participation.

At the end of the 2016-2017 season, Barroway bought out the remaining 49 per cent of the club held by IceArizona to become the Coyotes’ sole owner. He sold controlling interest in the team to Meruelo in the fall of 2019.

Glendale chose not to renew its lease in the summer of 2021, leaving the team without an arena. Early the next year, the Coyotes reached an agreement on a three-year lease with ASU to play in their 5,000-seat capacity Mullett Arena in Tempe.

On the ice, the team experienced little success over the course of their time in Arizona. The Coyotes reached the playoffs on only nine occasions. Outside of participation in the COVID-shortened postseason in 2020, the team has not made the playoffs since 2012 when they lost to the Los Angeles Kings in the Western Conference Finals.

The Coyotes finished their tenure in Arizona with a 26-40 playoff record and three series victories.

As part of the sale agreement, the league reserves the right to reactivate the Coyotes franchise "if owner Alex Meruelo has fully constructed a new, state-of-the-art facility appropriate for an NHL team within five years."

“I agree with Commissioner Gary Bettman and the National Hockey League, that it is simply unfair to continue to have our payers, 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 in a statement. “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.”

The statement all but confirms that the team will have a new brand identity and name when it begins play next fall.