As the National Hockey League season comes to an end, the organization has announced some major changes taking place in the Western Conference. The beloved Arizona Coyotes will be moving to Salt Lake City, Utah over the summer and beginning the upcoming season anew.

Prior to the Coyote’s run in Arizona, the team was relocated from Winnipeg Canada in 1996. Winnipeg has since gained a new team, the Jets. This relocation resulted in the branding of the Coyotes, one of the most beloved mascots in the league.

The Coyotes have played at Arizona State University's Mullett Arena since the beginning of 2022. However, a prominent issue with this arrangement is the limited number of spectator seats available — with a max capacity of 5,000 people.

While the lack of arena was stated as an issue when deciding to relocate the team, it was not the only problem. Arizona has faced challenges since 2009 due to the actions of Jerry Moyes, former majority owner of the Coyotes who ultimately drove the Coyote franchise to bankruptcy. Following bankruptcy, the team appeared to enter a positive period, signing a lease with the former Gila River Arena, located close to the city of Phoenix. Unfortunately, the city ultimately ended the lease in 2015, leaving the team rinkless following the 2021-2022 season. 

Desperate to remain in their home state, the Arizona franchise has put in renewed efforts into finding a new space to play. According to an article by Fox News, “Last May, voters rejected the franchise's plan for a multi-billion dollar entertainment district in Tempe.” The team identified six potential locations for a new arena for the team. However, since none of these locations were a guarantee, a contingency plan was created.

Ultimately, the league has decided to go with the aforementioned contingency plan. The team is being sold to Ryan and Ashley Smith, the owners of the National Basketball Association’s Utah Jazz. The Smith’s have wanted their own NHL team for quite some time. According to the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, “in January, Smith Entertainment Group formally requested that the NHL initiate an expansion process and bring a team to Salt Lake City.” 

The team will now be located in the Delta Center, home of the Jazz. This arena has previously hosted NHL exhibition games. Smith has stated that if he were to acquire the team, renovations will occur to make the space more “hockey-friendly.” 

Salt Lake City has been said to have much potential, as it is a winter sports town. In addition to the NHL transfer, the city has recently submitted a bid to host the 2034 Olympics. According to ESPN, this bid “could produce a new arena for the Jazz and the new NHL team.”

This relocation is not a mirror of those that have come before. The NHL will purchase the team from current owner Alex Meruelo and sell it to Smith who will receive all of the players and the team’s operating staff. The team will be a clean slate. 

This gives Meruelo the opportunity to restart the Coyotes’ franchise in the future if he so chooses, and he has indicated hopes to bring national hockey back to the state. He will receive an estimated one billion dollars in this deal, and is hoping to win an auction on June 27 for 95 acres of land north of Phoenix. According to ESPN, “he intends to build an arena, a practice facility, a theater, housing units and retail.” In the deal, he also retains all of the intellectual property of the Coyote franchise. While fans of the team have high hopes for the return of the team, Meruelo is not the most well loved. Many blame him for the loss of the team in the first place.

The team being sold means that they will be receiving new branding, including a new name. Smith took to social media to ask fans what they would name the Utah team. For now the team remains known as “Utah” until a name is selected. “We’ll start with Utah on the jersey and we’ll figure out the logo and everything else and what it is that we are,” Smith told the Associated Press. He explained that Utah will be the first part of the name regardless, they are just working on deciding on a second part.

The players stepped off of their charter plane on April 24 wearing merchandise branded with the NHL logo and state name. They were greeted at the Salt Lake City International Airport by approximately 100 cheering children waving signs, excited to welcome the team to their new home. The fans were chanting “Utah Yetis,” a popular potential name among those in Salt Lake. 

While Utah fans are elated to welcome the team, Arizona fans are mourning the loss of a popular aspect of their culture. As the team has been located in Arizona since the 90’s, they have a multigenerational fan base with a rich history of former players and long standing traditions. The final Coyotes game was a place of reminiscing and sadness as the team moved on to their next venture. However, fans remain hopeful that the team will be revived and a new arena will be built in Arizona in the coming years.