Arizona Coyotes no more: NHL team moving to Utah following speculation over future

The Arizona Coyotes' run in the Grand Canyon State has officially come to an end, at least for now.

On April 18, officials with the NHL announced that the team will be moving to Utah, beginning with the 2024-2025 season, as a result of a sale to Jazz owner Ryan Smith.

"Effective at closing, the approved transactions will result in the Coyotes’ franchise transferring the totality of its existing hockey assets – including its full Reserve List, roster of Players and draft picks and its Hockey Operations Department – to the Utah franchise," read a portion of the statement released by the NHL. 

In the statement, NHL officials thanked the owner of what was once the Coyotes, Alex Meruelo, for "his commitment to the franchise and Arizona," further stating that they "fully support his ongoing efforts to secure a new home in the desert for the Coyotes."

"We also want to acknowledge the loyal hockey fans of Arizona, who have supported their team with dedication for nearly three decades while growing the game," read a portion of the statement.

Meruelo also issued a statement on the matter, which was included in the NHL's statement.

"I agree with Commissioner Gary Bettman and the National Hockey League, that it is simply unfair to continue to have our Players, coaches, hockey front office, and the NHL teams they compete against, spend several more years playing in an arena that is not suited for NHL hockey," Meruelo wrote.

Meanwhile, a report from Tucson television station KOLD-TV states that according to Meruelo, the Tucson Roadrunners, which were the AHL affiliate of the now-former Coyotes, will be moving to Tempe.

Phoenix joins list of cities that lost pro sports franchise team

With the team's sale, Phoenix has joined a list of U.S. and Canadian cities that have lost NHL franchises. Other cities on the list include Atlanta, Cleveland, Denver, Hamilton, Hartford, Kansas City, Bloomington, Minn. (which is near Minneapolis), Montreal, the New York City area, Oakland, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Quebec City, St. Louis, Toronto, and Winnipeg.

The NHL currently has functioning teams in Denver, Montreal, Ottawa, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Toronto and Winnipeg. Places that have NHL teams now after their first teams went defunct include the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, New York City area, and the San Francisco Bay Area, providing hope that an NHL team can one day return to the Valley.

Team had a rocky time in Arizona

This latest development marks the end of a chapter for the team in Arizona, and marks, for now, the end of professional hockey in the state.

The team originally played in Winnipeg, located in Canada's Manitoba province, as the Winnipeg Jets before moving to the Phoenix area before the 1996-1997 NHL season.

While there is currently a Winnipeg Jets NHL team, that team was relocated to the Canadian city from Atlanta, where they were known as the Thrashers.

Arizona - MASTERPLAN - 2

Renderings of the Tempe Entertainment District, including a new arena for the Arizona Coyotes. The plans were rejected by Tempe voters via a referendum in 2023.

In the past two seasons, the Associated Press noted the team played at Mullett Arena in Tempe, a 500-seat venue on the Arizona State University's Tempe campus. The team originally planned to build a new stadium and entertainment district in Tempe, but those plans were scuttled after a failed municipal referendum there.

Officials with the Coyotes have proposed a new stadium in North Phoenix, but those plans came under rather intense criticism at one point from Scottsdale's mayor, who wrote, in an open letter, that the proposed venue "was presented without mention of market demand for a new entertainment venue disguised as a hockey arena, or congested highway access, or questionable arena zoning entitlement."

"The glitzy proposal was portrayed as the last gasp to keep hockey in Arizona," Mayor David Ortega wrote.

Hockey could some day return to Arizona

Depending on what happens in the coming years, professional hockey could make a return to Arizona. Meruelo stated that the sale "is not the end for NHL hockey in Arizona."

"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," a portion of the statement read.