The future of pro hockey in Arizona: What's known, what's not

The sale of the Coyotes’ hockey assets, including players, reserve list and draft picks to the owner of the Utah Jazz, Ryan Smith, was announced April 18, after weeks of speculation.

The sale allows Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo to retain the Coyotes name, logos, minor league team and Arizona Coyotes Foundation. It also gives him a five-year deadline to build a new arena that meets NHL standards to reactivate his franchise. If he makes the deadline, he will be granted an expansion team, presumably to be named the Arizona Coyotes.

In the meantime, Meruelo will still be able to attend NHL board meetings, but the Coyotes will not get a vote in board matters.

Where is the arena planned?

Meruelo has set his sights on about 100 acres of land in northeast Phoenix, at Loop 101 west of Scottsdale Road. The land will be sold at a public auction held by the Arizona State Land Department in June 27, with a starting price of $68.5 million.

How long will it take to build the arena?

Meruelo said he anticipates construction will take about 30 months. Realistically, to meet the NHL’s deadline, construction on the site must begin by mid-2026 at the latest. He said he hopes the arena will be done sooner, in three to four years, but with the deadline he has until mid-2029 to complete the project.

What if it doesn’t happen?

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said he would not speculate about the future development but reiterated that the deadline is five years.

What else is planned for the land?

In addition to the arena, Meruelo aims to build an entertainment district in north Phoenix. His proposal would include restaurants and retail, hotel, office space, a 3,500-person theater and 1,900 residential units.

Does the development require taxpayer contributions?

Meruelo said he is not seeking direct taxpayer contributions to build the project but is seeking a “theme park district” designation that would allow a surcharge on items and tickets sold in the district to fund the ongoing operations.

The district would need to be enacted and a board would need to be put in place. If activated, the governing board of that district could issue bonds to pay for maintenance or renovations.

To repay the bonds, an additional 1% to 9% surcharge would be added to sales of items, such as tickets, merchandise and food. Meruelo said that arrangement would allow the project to be built without direct contributions of public money, instead funding with a voluntary fee only paid by people using the facilities.

Arizona Coyotes Chairman and Governor Alex Meruelo during a news conference at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix. The NHL Board of Governors approved the relocation of the Arizona Coyotes to Salt Lake City.
Arizona Coyotes Chairman and Governor Alex Meruelo during a news conference at the Hyatt Regency Phoenix. The NHL Board of Governors approved the relocation of the Arizona Coyotes to Salt Lake City.

What was wrong with Mullett Arena?

The arena on Arizona State University campus was simply too small for an NHL team, Bettman said. It was unfair to players at the highest level of the sport to be playing in a college arena, which could never be suitable for a playoff game. The Coyotes' time in Mullett Arena was always meant to be temporary.

“As a college rink it’s a good facility, but it is not a major league facility,” Bettman said.

Who bought the team?

Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith bought the hockey operations and will hold games in the Delta Center, the same venue where the Jazz play. Smith expressed interest about two years ago in owning an NHL team, Bettman said. The Delta Center has 12,000 unobstructed seats for hockey now, with plans to reach 17,000 seats over the next couple years.

What will the Utah hockey team be called?

Bettman said there is likely not enough time for the team to get a formal name before the beginning of the season in October. The name will need to be selected and trademarked, and merchandise and logos need to be created.

What will happen to the Tucson Roadrunners?

Meruelo still owns the Roadrunners, the Coyotes’ American Hockey League affiliate. Meruelo said he is trying to work with Arizona State University to bring the Roadrunners to Mullett Arena part-time, but the plan is in the early stages. Meruelo would need the approval of the AHL’s Board of Governors before moving the Roadrunners. His idea would keep the Roadrunners in Tucson for a portion of the season, and another portion would be played in Tempe.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: The future of the NHL in Arizona: What's known, what's not