Arizona Coyotes to move to Salt Lake City after being sold to Utah Jazz owners

The NHL’s Board of Directors announced Thursday it had approved the establishment of a franchise in Utah, selling the Arizona Coyotes’ existing hockey assets, including its reserve list, roster of players and draft picks to the new Utah team.

The sale renders the Coyotes franchise inactive. Team owner Alex Meruelo retains the right to reactivate the franchise if he can construct a new, state-of-the-art facility up to NHL standards within five years.

“The NHL’s belief in Arizona has never wavered,” commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “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.”

The team was sold to Smith Entertainment Group, led by Ashley and Ryan Smith, who own the Utah Jazz NBA team. It will play at the Delta Center.

In a statement, Meruelo said it was “simply unfair” to the players, coaches and other stakeholders to play in an arena that is not suitable for NHL games.

Arizona Coyotes players celebrate together on the ice after defeating the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 at Mullett Arena. The game was the franchise's last in Arizona before it relocates to Salt Lake City.
Arizona Coyotes players celebrate together on the ice after defeating the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 at Mullett Arena. The game was the franchise's last in Arizona before it relocates to Salt Lake City.

“But this is not the end for NHL hockey in Arizona,” Meruelo said in a statement. “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.”

All week, rumors have been swirling about the move. This came weeks after the hockey team announced it would bid on state land in north Phoenix to build an arena and surrounding entertainment district. That auction was set for June 27. Meanwhile, Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego was trying to line up a meeting with team owners about its plans.

Bettman will hold a news conference with Meruelo on Friday in Arizona and with the Smiths in Salt Lake City later in the day.

“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," the Smiths said in a statement. '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."

Ryan Smith told NHL Network that fans had put down 4,000 deposits for season tickets in the first 45 minutes after the announcement.

This will be the first time an NHL team has moved since the Atlanta Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg in 2011.

The Coyotes moved from Winnipeg to Arizona in 1996. They first played in downtown America West Arena, which didn't have good sightlines for hockey. They played in Glendale, a long drive from the fan base, and most recently at 5,000-seat Mullett Arena. Voters shot down a proposed arena in Tempe.

The Coyotes won their final game at Mullett Arena on Wednesday, beating the Edmonton Oilers 5-2. They finished seventh in the Central Division and missed the playoffs for the 11th time in 12 seasons since they reached the conference final in 2012.

But they improved by 13 points in 2022-23 and by another seven points this season.

The Coyotes' presence led to a strong youth hockey market in Arizona. NHL star Auston Matthews and Toronto Maple Leafs teammate Matthew Knies are from Arizona.

"(Arizona) means everything. I grew up here, I played my whole career here," Coyotes All-Star Clayton Keller said. "There's so many great people that are in this organization, great teammates, I could go down the list of all the people who made sacrifices for us to perform. It's definitely tough and hopefully the NHL will be back here in a couple years."

Contributing: Mike Brehm, USA TODAY

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Coyotes to move to Salt Lake City after sale to Jazz owners