Could The Arizona Coyotes Be Replaced With An Expansion Franchise?

Even if the Arizona Coyotes leave, the NHL might try yet again to put an NHL team in Phoenix. current owner Alex Meruelo might be part of the plan as well.
Mar 30, 2024; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Arizona Coyotes right wing Clayton Keller (9) celebrates with
Mar 30, 2024; Tempe, Arizona, USA; Arizona Coyotes right wing Clayton Keller (9) celebrates with / Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

When we woke up on Wednesday, we didn’t expect to be hit with an avalanche of relocation news. Yesterday morning the Arizona Coyotes were expected to stay the Arizona Coyotes.

A few hours later, we face the growing possibility the Coyotes will be playing in Salt Lake City next season.

Buried in all this news was a little interesting proposal. As part of the agreement to sell the Coyotes, it was speculated the NHL might be giving current Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo first dips at a future expansion franchise to replace his Coyotes.

If that’s correct, then it could be possible for the Coyotes to be replaced with another NHL team in Arizona in the somewhat near future.

The Arizona Coyotes may be replaced in Arizona not long after leaving

Does it sound a bit odd and complicated? Yes, especially considering the Coyotes decades’ long worries in the Phoenix media market. This “relocation and expansion” switch to cities losing a team is nothing new in the business of professional sports. Here are a few examples.

When the NBA’s original Charlotte Hornets relocated to New Orleans the NBA wanted to avoid a lawsuit with Charlotte and promised the city an expansion franchise.

The Charlotte Bobcats entered the league in 2004, two years after the Hornets left. After the New Orleans franchise changed its name, the Charlotte franchise renamed themselves the Hornets in 2014.

The NHL even has an example of this. When the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas in 1992, the NHL announced in 1997 that Minnesota would be one of four expansion teams. The move of the Stars to Dallas and giving Minnesota a new franchise to replace it has been seen as a “win-win” for both cities.

The most controversial and historic example is the Cleveland Browns of the NFL. By the mid-1990s, Browns owner Art Modell wanted to move his team to Baltimore. Baltimore had lost their previous NFL team, the Colts, when they relocated to Indianapolis in 1984.

Legal actions by the city of Cleveland and Browns fans led the NFL to an interesting compromise. Modell would move the Browns to Baltimore to become the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland would be given an expansion franchise to take up where the Browns left off.

In the league’s eyes, the Browns never left, they were just “inactive” the two years between relocation and expansion. It was the developments in Cleveland that led the NBA to do something similar in Charlotte.

There are two pretty big differences between these examples and this possible Alex Meruelo deal. First is that in all the previous examples, ownership wanted to move the team, initiated moving the team, and did move the team. The expansion franchises that replaced the relocated franchises all had new ownership groups. 

If Meruelo gets an expansion franchise, he would be the first to get a replacement franchise in the same market. Modell moved with the Browns to Baltimore, much hated Stars owner Norm Green moved with the team to Dallas, but Meruelo would not be moving with the team to Salt Lake City.

Instead, he would be switching teams in a purely transactional nature, one NHL team for another, while the Winnipeg Jets/Coyotes franchise takes up shop in Utah.

The second thing missing (so far, at least) is legal challenges. Legal challenges were brought up in the Browns case and were a worry of the NBA in the Charlotte example.

If Arizona or the local government presents legal action over the relocation of the Coyotes that could push the NHL to consider awarding an expansion franchise.

Considering the apathetic nature the community has had to the Coyotes, such as voting down the Tempe site, evicting the team from Gila River Arena, and the Scottsdale mayor opposing the new land auction plan, that seems highly unlikely.