Could the Arizona Coyotes Move Cause A Minor League Hockey Shake Up?

The Arizona Coyotes are moving to Salt Lake City and that might lead to the relocation of one or two minor league teams. We specifically look at the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL and the Tucson Roadrunners of the AHL.
Tucson Roadrunners forward Colin Theisen (63) and Coachella Valley Firebirds defenseman Gustav
Tucson Roadrunners forward Colin Theisen (63) and Coachella Valley Firebirds defenseman Gustav / Taya Gray/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY

The Arizona Coyotes moving to Utah might not be the only relocation news for professional hockey teams this season. The Coyotes sale leaves the void for a professional hockey team in the Phoenix metro area. Meanwhile the Coyotes are moving to a place that already has a minor league hockey team. It is possible we might see an AHL team and an ECHL team move as a result of the Coyotes transaction (remember the NHL isn’t calling a “relocation” but an “expansion”, even though it is very much a relocation)?

First there are the Utah Grizzlies of the ECHL. The Grizzlies play in a suburb of Salt Lake City, but in a different venue than the Coyotes plan to use (the soon to be renamed Coyotes will share Delta Center with the NBA’s Utah Jazz). The Grizzlies put out an official statement welcoming the Coyotes, but didn’t exactly commit to staying in the area.

If the Grizzlies were set in stone to stay in Utah, you would think the announcement would contain something about sharing the same market. It at least leaves the door open for a possible relocation. Utah is the ECHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche. KUTV, the CBS affiliate for Salt Lake City, discussed the possibility of the Coyotes changing their ECHL affiliation to the Grizzlies, although no official announcement has been made.

Salt Lake City might be too small for two professional hockey teams, but that hasn’t stopped other teams from having their minor league affiliates share the same market. The San Jose Sharks share the SAP Center with their AHL affiliate the San Jose Barracuda. The Vegas Golden Knights share the Las Vegas metro area with their AHL affiliate the Henderson Silver Knights. The Grizzlies AHL affiliate, the Colorado Eagles, is roughly 50 miles away from the big league team the Colorado Avalanche for a few United States based examples.

If the Grizzlies decide to move, Sacramento might emerge as the leading candidate. Sacramento only has one major professional sports team with the NBA’s Sacramento Kings who play in the still fairly new Golden 1 Center. Team owner Vivek Ranadive tried bidding on an NHL team once before and was instrumental in the Oakland A’s temporary relocation to Sacramento starting next season. Ranadive seems determined to keep bringing sports teams to Sacramento and if the Grizzlies become available we’d expect him to jump at the opportunity.

The second team involved is the Coyotes current AHL affiliate the Tucson Roadrunners. After the Coyotes sale became official it was announced former Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo intended to move the Roadrunners from Tucson to Phoenix as he pursues a new arena and the possible NHL expansion team that would come with it. Tucson city officials have been “left in the dark” on those negotiations. Tucson fans have also created an online petition to keep the team in Tucson.

Another rumored idea from Meruelo is the team splitting the season between Tucson and Phoenix. That’s a move that Tony Androckitis, founder of Founder of InsideAHLHockey.Com, says would present its own logistical and business challenges. Any Roadrunners move would involve Meruelo finding a way out of his lease in Tempe, getting approval from the AHL board of directors, and then getting approval to use Mullet Arena from Arizona State University. The Roadrunners averaged over 4000 fans per game this season and are preparing for the AHL playoffs.