Why This Time Is Different For Arizona Coyotes Relocation Rumors

The Arizona Coyotes have been speculated to relocate for almost two decades. Things might finally be lining up for the long-awaited move and the NHL played their hand in showing it.
New York Rangers v Arizona Coyotes
New York Rangers v Arizona Coyotes / Zac BonDurant/GettyImages

The Arizona Coyotes are the NHL’s problem children that keep on ticking. It seems the team has operated on borrowed time in the desert for over the past decade, with relocation inevitable at some point.

Just when you think their time in the Grand Canyon state is up, something or someone steps in to save the day. The team’s temporary living arrangement at Mullet Arena is the latest example.

Mullet Arena was meant to buy the Coyotes time to find a permanent home after an unceremonious eviction from their old arena Desert Diamond Arena.

The team was bullish on a plan to move to Tempe until voters didn’t approve of their plan. “Fire up those relocation talks again”, or so every hockey fan thought.

The Arizona Coyotes may be seriosly moving away from Arizona now

The team shifted focus now to a public land auction for a site in North Phoenix. It could potentially be the first privately funded arena district in the NHL, but Scottsdale’s mayor is an opponent to the team’s plan.

The Coyotes remain optimistic, even joking about their arena drama on Twitter at times. Their current deal to use Mullet Arena could be extended until 2027.

On Wednesday Frank Servalli announced on Twitter that the NHL has drafted two schedules for next season, one with the Coyotes in Arizona and one with the franchise moving to Salt Lake City.

The NHL did something similar at the height of the Coyotes' financial problems in 2010. Up until now, the league had been stubbornly committed to the Arizona market.

Even after the Tempe plan failed, the league issued a statement not mentioning relocation, only saying they would look at what “the options might be going forward”.

Servalli’s announcement is the first statement we’ve seen from the league acknowledging what is now a very real possibility of relocation.

What’s different now from all the previous Coyotes relocation rumors? Unlike the team’s previous bankruptcy, ownership is much more stable.

Team owner Alex Meruelo has deep pockets plus a want and continuing patience to keep the Coyotes in Arizona. He stuck through them after their previous arena eviction and after the Tempe deal failed. Meruelo might not have a "plan C" for his team.

The most likely reason relocation is more of a possibility than it was in the past is the quality of the group seeking a team.

Back during the Coyotes' bankruptcy and controversies around 2010, potential ownership groups wanted to move the team to Canada, specifically Winnipeg or Hamilton.

Considering the economic factors north of the border, the NHL preferred to keep teams stateside for financial reasons. The Atlanta Thrashers relocation is an exception, yet the NHL specifically excluded Canada from their recent expansion for the same economic factors.

Salt Lake City lacks all of that. It’s a United States city, alleviating the economic concerns between the United States and Canadian dollars. Potential ownership is one solid financial footing, already owning the Utah Jazz.

Potential ownership already has an arena, not a “potential arena”, or an arena under construction, but an arena that is available ASAP.

Would the NHL prefer a newer and hockey-specific arena like they got with Vegas and Seattle? Probably, but even with an older building the problems the Coyotes' long-standing arena problems wouldn’t exist in Utah.

We tried to give ourselves a crash course in the history of the Coyotes' financial troubles, so let’s oversimplify this to explain it to you. The potential owners that came out during the 2009-2010 bankruptcy came with a lot of questions and potential problems.

This included how to settle the team’s existing debts, who would cover losses, how to share revenue with the city, the league’s preference to keep the team in Arizona, legal challenges, etc.

The potential ownership group in Utah lacks a lot of those problems and is sure to check every box the NHL could ever think to want in an ownership group. The NHL was unlikely to expand past 32 teams but Utah would gladly take a relocated franchise.

Since the team isn’t in bankruptcy proceedings, all the legal red tape that existed in 2009-2010 doesn’t exist now.

The only collateral might be Bettman’s bruised ego of the Coyotes finally leaving. That could be something the league could easily handle given the better financial footing the Coyotes would find in Utah.

The Coyotes are more likely to move this time because there never was as good an opportunity, or potential owner, as the Utah group is offering.

What about Atlanta? The city so nice the NHL left twice has recently put together a plan to try to get a third NHL team, with an ownership group including former NHL player Anson Carter.

That ownership group is selling their plan on a still-to-be-built arena. Utah has an arena that the Coyotes could use as early as next season. That’s a major point for Salt Lake City.

Selling the franchise would be a stunning departure from Meruelo’s previous unwavering commitment to the Arizona market.

Meruelo has enough power and influence that if the North Phoenix plan fails the Coyotes could try a “plan D”. Meruelo may have exhausted even his best efforts.

Maybe those rumors of a potential sale after the Tempe plan failed to pass were more than just rumors. If the NHL is going as far as to prepare the schedule, there must be something more there. Where there is smoke, there is usually fire.