League approves Coyotes sale and new franchise in Utah

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[April 19, 2024]  By Frank Pingue

(Reuters) -The National Hockey League's Board of Governors have approved the sale and relocation of the Arizona Coyotes to Utah starting with the 2024-25 season, the league said on Thursday.

The deal includes a clause that could ultimately see Arizona get an expansion team if a state-of-the-art facility appropriate for an NHL team is constructed within five years.

The Utah team will be owned and controlled by Smith Entertainment Group -- the parent company of the NBA's Utah Jazz -- which is led by Ryan and Ashley Smith.

"As everyone knows, Utah is a vibrant and thriving state, and we are thrilled to be a part of it," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a news release.

"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.

"We thank them for working so collaboratively with the League to resolve a complex situation in this unprecedented and beneficial way."

Effective at closing, the approved transactions will result in the Coyotes' franchise transferring their existing hockey assets including its roster of players and draft picks and its hockey operations department to the Utah franchise.

"We are committed to building a Stanley Cup contending team and are thrilled to welcome incredible players, coaches, staff, and their families to Utah," the Smiths said.

"Today is a great day for Utah, for hockey, and for building a legacy that will have a lasting impact for generations to come."

The Coyotes franchise had a tumultuous tenure in Arizona since relocating to Phoenix from Winnipeg in 1996 and then to nearby Glendale in 2003 and faced plenty of struggles on the ice and at the gate and an inability to secure an NHL-caliber arena.

Former team owner Jerry Moyes took the team into bankruptcy in 2009, prompting the NHL to operate the franchise for four years, and in 2021 Glendale terminated the Coyotes' year-to-year lease for the city-owned Gila River Arena they had called home.

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Apr 17, 2024; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Arizona Coyotes fans in the crowd hold signs for the players following the game against the Edmonton Oilers at Mullett Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports/File Photo

Amid a struggle to find a permanent home, the Coyotes played the last two seasons in a rink on the campus of Arizona State University that was not suited for NHL hockey and only had a capacity of about 4,600 for games.

In addition to the Utah franchise, the Board approved a plan that renders the Coyotes franchise inactive, with a right to reactivate if owner Alex Meruelo can have a new arena ready within five years.

"This is not the end for NHL hockey in Arizona," said Meruelo. "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."

(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar)

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