It’s official: NHL approves Arizona Coyotes’ $1.2B Sale, relocation to Utah

The path is clear for Utah’s inaugural NHL franchise after the league approved the $1.2 billion sale of the Arizona Coyotes to the owners of the Utah Jazz. (File photo by Savannah M Nugent/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – The Mullett Arena crowd roared as the Arizona Coyotes scored five goals Wednesday in their season finale. The onslaught started just under three minutes into the first period, when forward Liam O’Brien ripped one past Edmonton Oilers netminder Calvin Pickard. The Coyotes would pile on four more goals in securing a 5-2 win.

It was a season-ending victory that would normally excite fans as a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season. But most everyone in attendance at the 5,000-seat arena – along with legions of fans who had followed the Coyotes in the desert for 28 years – viewed the game as an afterthought.

They were waiting on a definitive answer from the NHL about the team’s future.

By Thursday afternoon, a unanimous vote squashed any longstanding rumors. The NHL Board of Governors approved the Coyotes’ relocation to Salt Lake City, with Utah Jazz owners Ryan and Ashley Smith taking the reins from owner Alex Meruelo in a $1.2 billion sale.

Coyotes fans’ months-long nightmare that the team would leave the Valley after the 2023-24 season became a reality. In a release from the NHL Public Relations on Thursday, the NHL stated that the Coyotes franchise would be made inactive.

While Meruelo is no longer the team owner, he retains the rights to the name, logo and brand. The release also stated that the right to reactivate a franchise in Arizona will remain with Meruelo as he continues to push toward building a “state-of-the-art facility” in the Valley.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who has spoken on the topic of the Coyotes multiple times over the last few months, welcomed Utah’s new owners and the league’s newest city with excitement.

“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.”

Ryan, whose organization has a year to rename the team, said his focus goes to the people of Utah who have long awaited a professional hockey team.

“This is a transformative day for our state and our fans,” Smith said Thursday. “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.”

Meruelo stated that this is not the end of professional hockey in Arizona. He has a five-year window to build an NHL-suitable arena. On June 27, Meruelo will bid on land in northeast Phoenix where he plans to build a stadium.

“I remain committed to this community and to building a first-class sports arena and entertainment district without seeking financial support from the public,” Meruelo said.

Arizona Diamondbacks managing general partner Ken Kendrick and president and CEO Derrick Hall released a joint statement in response to the move shortly after the news was made official by the NHL.

“The entire Diamondbacks organization is disappointed in the now official news of our NHL team being relocated out of state,” the statement read. “We firmly believe that we deserve and can support teams from each of the major sports and are troubled that a solution could not be found for all parties involved. We are sad for all sports fans and all who care so deeply about our community.”

Zach Mott(he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Zach Mott expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Mott has interned with the Varsity Sports Show doing camera and broadcast work.