Inside the Utah Hockey Club’s Road to Salt Lake City

Utah Hockey Club

Getty Utah Hockey Club

The National Hockey League has announced the name and franchise colors of their incumbent Salt Lake City team; the Utah Hockey Club. Well, the team name is still subject to change, but the color palette is here to stay. 

The new-ish team came about after the Smith Entertainment Group (SEG) formally acquired the franchise, players, and hockey operations department in a deal with the NHL in April. Since then, it’s been a flurry of activity, between Alex Meruelo (the owner of the Arizona Coyotes) still intent on building an Arizona arena, and Utah officially stepping onto the ice with their jersey reveal. 

Team owners, Ashley and Ryan Smith

Getty Utah Hockey Club team owners, Ashley and Ryan Smith

Ticket Sales Skyrocket & Franchise Colors Are Revealed

On June 13, the new team revealed their franchise color scheme, jerseys, and name. The Utah Hockey Club will only carry that moniker for the first season. A fan vote to decide the official team name and the mascot is ongoing, with the next round of voting closing on June 20. 

Although another round of voting is still scheduled, the current names in the mix are Outlaws, Blizzard, Venom, Yeti, Mammoth, and Utah Hockey Club.

While the name is still subject to change, the franchise colors are permanent. Per the team, the colors are “rock black”, “salt white” and “mountain blue”. It’s interesting to note that Utah Hockey Club’s franchise color palette is complementary to the Utah Jazz’s recently-released color scheme; a nod, perhaps, to the fact that Smith Entertainment Group owns both. 

On June 7 Utah’s season tickets went on sale, with 34,000 people placing deposits. Season tickets are currently available on a first-come, first-served basis, based on season ticket deposits. Fans can still place a season ticket deposit (available in three plan options), or wait until when single-game tickets are released later this offseason. Official merchandise will be available on June 28. 

“I think things are going even better than we could have hoped based on the short time frame that they’ve had to work. Since the announcement, which hasn’t been that long ago, and as you all know this didn’t come about over a long period, they’re literally drinking from a fire hose and they’re doing it unbelievably well,” Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner said, at a press conference ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday, June 8.

It’s clear that Bettman is pleased with Utah’s running start so far, but how did we get here in the first place? 

Delta Center

GettyDelta Center

The Arizona Coyotes Were Without An Arena

A hockey team needs an arena, and that’s one thing the Arizona Coyotes’ owner, Alex Meruelo, couldn’t provide. Following the 2021-22 season, the city of Glendale terminated its lease with the Coyotes’ ownership for the use of Gila River Arena. 

The short-term solution was a brief escapade at the University of Arizona’s Mullett Arena, but ownership’s plans of a new arena in Tempe were doused after voters turned down three separate propositions that would lead to a $2.1 billion entertainment district that would have included a new Coyotes arena and facility. The last resort could be a public land bid, but it’s unclear if that will happen or not. 

Smith Entertainment Group entered into a conversation with the league on initiating the expansion process to Salt Lake City on Jan. 24, after the company, which owns a variety of sports teams in Utah, expressed interest in an acquisition in 2022.

Ryan and Ashley Smith are at the helm of SEG, with Ryan Smith presiding as chairman of Smith Entertainment Group, and governor of the Utah Jazz (NBA). The parent company, SEG, also owns the Delta Center, the Utah Royals (NWSL), and Real Salt Lake (MLS). 

“During conversations over the past two years, we have been impressed by Ryan and Ashley Smith’s commitment to their community and their passion and vision for Utah, not only as a hockey market but as a preeminent sports and entertainment destination,” Read an NHL statement released Jan. 25

Alex Meruelo and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman

GettyAlex Meruelo and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman

The Arizona Coyotes Are Sold To Smith Entertainment Group

The NHL’s Board of Governors voted unanimously in favor of the sale and relocation, marking the official end of the Coyotes in Arizona. On April 18, the sale was final. 

The NHL acted as a broker between SEG and the Coyotes, with Smith Entertainment Group purchasing all hockey operations assets for a hybrid transaction of $1.2 billion. $1 billion of that figure went to Alex Meruelo, and the other $200 million was billed as a ‘relocation fee’ and will be divided between current NHL owners. Meruelo purchased the Coyotes in 2019 for around $400 million. 

“On behalf of the Board of Governors, I am delighted to officially welcome Utah to the National Hockey League. Congratulations to Ryan and Ashley Smith, their entire organization, the state of Utah, and the fans as the Club continues its exciting march toward puck drop in October,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement released by the NHL on June 13.

Ryan and Ashley Smith aren’t the first to own both an NBA/WNBA and NHL franchise; Ted and Lynn Leonsis own the Washington Capitals, Washington Mystics and Washington Wizards and Larry and Judy Tanenbaum own the Toronto Raptors and Toronto Maple Leafs, and a majority stake in the incoming Toronto WNBA franchise. 

As governor of the Jazz, Ryan Smith is relatively involved in the Jazz’ operations, which begs the question; will he be just as active in the Utah Hockey Club? 

“When it comes to hockey, I’m going to want to know what’s going on. I’m going to want to be involved with the ins and outs of everything we’re doing. But do I want to micromanage every decision? Absolutely not. I will be a better leader for everyone if I know what’s going on. But I don’t want to be a leader where every decision comes through me or the organization doesn’t move. Being involved and being in the know is very different than making sure you are the lynchpin in every decision. That is not my style,” Smith told The Athletic

NHL Utah Hockey Club

GettyNHL Utah Hockey Club

What Happens Now For The Roster & Meruelo?

Now that the Utah Hockey Club has a (temporary) name, what about its roster? 

Since SEG acquired all hockey-related assets, the entire Coyotes roster, including pending restricted and unrestricted free agents, reserve list, and future draft picks have been transferred to the Utah Hockey Club. SEG has also retained the contracts with head coach André Tourigny, general manager Bill Armstrong, the entire coaching, scouting, and management groups, along with some trainers and other related staff members. 

Alex Meruelo remains an interesting part of the equation. Meruelo still owns all of the Coyotes’ intellectual property, which includes the logos and branding. He also has been granted a five-year grace period to bring an expansion franchise to the Phoenix area if he can get an arena built. 

The arena is a point of contention. It would open in 2027 if it were to be built within the greater entertainment district overhaul, however, Scottsdale mayor David Ortega has consistently been against the propositions.

“The prospect of a rookie developer attempting to buy Arizona State Trust Land with absolutely no infrastructure on the Phoenix side of the 101/Scottsdale Road intersection at the doorstep of Scottsdale is not feasible, or welcome,” Ortega stated in a public letter released on April 8.

For Meruelo, his next plan of action could be when he is liable to bid on a 95-acre parcel of publicly available land in north Phoenix that will enter auction on June 27.

While the story isn’t over when it comes to an Arizona NHL franchise for Alex Meruelo, the Smith Entertainment Group’s new Utah Hockey Club has seemingly hit the ground running.

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