Coyotes’ Owner Failed to Answer 1 Simple Question to Stop Relocation

The Arizona Coyotes are expected to reloate to Utah's Salt Lake City for the 2025 season.

Getty The Arizona Coyotes are expected to reloate to Utah's Salt Lake City for the 2025 season.

As we get closer to the inevitable date of the official announcement of the Arizona Coyotes‘ relocation to Utah starting next season, more details about what happened behind the scenes keep emerging.

On Monday, April 15, NHL Insider Chris Johnston of The Athletic published a story in which he retells the story of how the league asked the Coyotes owner a question he didn’t have an answer for. After hearing it, according to Johnston, the NHL decided to move ahead with the relocation to Salt Lake City.

“Alex Meruelo, who has owned the franchise since 2019, was focused on winning a land auction in north Phoenix to solve its long-standing arena problem,” Johnston wrote. “But as part of a conversation with the NHL commissioner and deputy commissioner, Meruelo was asked a question that ultimately set the wheels in motion on a deal that is expected to see the Coyotes players and hockey operations staff moved to Salt Lake City by the end of this week.”

The question was a very simple one, according to Johnston, but Meruelo couldn’t quite convince the commissioners with his answer.

“Can you say with any certainty when a permanent arena will be completed to replace the temporary facilities at Mullett Arena?” the NHL asked Meruelo, per Johnston. “Meruelo couldn’t.”

The Coyotes Owner Couldn’t Convince the NHL

This was a question with a much bigger answer and repercussions than just answering “yes” or “no” to it.

Meruelo couldn’t promise the NHL anything related to having a new arena available, according to Johnston, “with the myriad potential issues and hurdles that come with a project of that size.”

Johnston proceeded to cite a few of those issues, including securing the land to build the arena and having to deal with the political parties necessary to get the local support so the construction could be completed properly and in time.

“Recognizing the situation was becoming untenable, not to mention unfair with no clear remedy in sight,” Johnston details in his story. “Meruelo and the NHL began working on a complex deal that will see him retain the Coyotes brand, logos and marks if completed, per league sources.”

That means that all players, staffers, etc. currently employed by the Coyotes, barring the owners, will initially be relocated and move operations to Salt Lake City. Meanwhile, Meruelo will be “granted the rights to bring an NHL expansion team back to Arizona should he get a suitable arena built within five years, while keeping his ownership stake in the American Hockey League’s Tucson Roadrunners.”

The Roadrunners, according to Johnston’s report, will become Utah’s AHL affiliate and could end up playing out of Mullett Arena in Tempe, “pending negotiations.”

The whole operation, which Johnston confirms in his report is fully brokered by the NHL, will have the league “pay Meruelo $1 billion for the organization’s hockey operations assets,” and once that transaction is completed, the NHL “would then flip them to Salt Lake City owners Ryan and Ashley Smith of Smith Entertainment Group for $1.2 billion.”

According to Johnston, the extra $200 million will be “distributed among existing NHL owners, per league sources.”

Johnston added that Meruelo and new franchise owner Ryan Smith “haven’t been in direct contact during negotiations.”

Nothing Done, But Close Enough: Utah Will Have an NHL Franchise

Johnston reports that nothing has been signed yet, but the priority for all parties involved is to get the deal done before the April 20 weekend when the postseason is scheduled to start with the first games of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“There is an understanding among the parties that it’s preferable to try to wrap the sale up before Saturday’s start of the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Johnston wrote.

The main reason for that is simply “not to overshadow the most important part of the NHL calendar,” per Johnston, although the insider added that “obstacles remain coming out of the weekend, per sources.”

One of those things could be coming up with a plan to compensate the Coyotes’ players under contract with the franchise once their season is over and the move is sealed, signed, and confirmed.

“The Coyotes’ players will be compensated for the inconvenience of a move and are expected to receive payments to cover expenses, housing transition, and a flat relocation fee if the Salt Lake City deal goes through,” per league sources speaking to Johnston.

The Coyotes will wrap up their final season in Arizona, at least if all goes according to plan, on Wednesday night when they host the Edmonton Oilers at Mullett Arena.

Read More