First, it was downtown Phoenix, then it was Glendale, then it was supposed to be Tempe.
Gary Bettman and the Coyotes may have stated their intentions to play at Mullett Arena next season, but speculation has already begun over whether or not it will be the beginning of the end for the Desert Dogs.
Exactly what the club’s next move will be following Tempe’s decision to kibosh a new entertainment district for the city is very much up in the air, with relocation far and away appearing as the most likely outcome once the dust finally settles.
With several cities being tossed around, however, how realistic are some options? Are there cities that make more sense than others as potential destinations? Could the Coyotes, by some miracle, actually relocate within state lines?
Salt Lake City
In terms of early favourites, there aren’t many stronger horses in the race than Salt Lake City. Already having been tossed around as a potential NHL market down the line, it sounds like the capital of Utah ticks most, if not all of the check marks the NHL is looking for in a potential destination. It sure sounds like the NHL recognizes that fact as well.
Hearing Salt Lake City appears to be the focus for the Arizona Coyotes internally among hockey ops. Obviously still in "early" stages. #Yotes
— Andy Strickland (@andystrickland) May 17, 2023
Salt Lake City’s strong fit on a location basis, retaining its Western Conference spot, undoubtedly moves the needle, while a local owner that has already met with Bettman indicates the interest is indeed very real.
There may be some hiccups on the basis of Vivint Arena being built in 1991, which would make it one of the league’s oldest barns, but with reports of the 2030 Olympics possibly on their way, there’s certainly reason to believe that a new arena could be coming down the pipeline in short order.
All these logistical factors, combined with their regional proximity to other clubs such as the Vegas Golden Knights and Colorado Avalanche for regional rivalries, and it looks like there’s good reason to think SLC is number one on the NHL’s list.
Houston fits all of the boxes that Salt Lake City does in that it makes sense from a regional standpoint, boasts an NHL-ready arena in the Toyota Center, and appears to have support from both an ownership and fan perspective. In fact, one could argue that Houston was likely the clubhouse leader to be the next city to earn an NHL franchise as recently as a few weeks ago.
So why are they now likely in the two-hole instead of in the pole position? The likeliest answer revolves around the almighty dollar.
While Salt Lake City is a significant metropolis, its population at just a shade over a million people including its urban areas, Houston’s population within city boundaries alone is twice as large at roughly 2.2 million. When accounting for Houston’s urban population, the nearly six million people make it the fifth largest city in the United States.
Given the money printers that the Vegas Golden Knights and Seattle Kraken have been following expansion, in conjunction with the impending sale of the Ottawa Senators likely to approach nearly $1 billion USD, one would figure it’s a more valuable proposition having Houston join via expansion rather than having Tilman Fertitta pay whatever measly sum the damaged Coyotes would fetch.
Counting over six million residents in its metropolitan area, Atlanta appears ripe for another kick at the can with an NHL franchise. Of course, no city has ever been given three separate shots at an NHL franchise, but there's a reason the allure of A-Town is so strong.
With word that the wheels are already in motion for the city to bring back professional puck, Atlanta should be considered a real option to wind up with another NHL team sooner than later. So long as whatever ownership group steps up doesn’t actively hurt their own franchise, there’s plenty to like about a potential team’s prospects in terms of location and possible support.
Unfortunately, the city falls into a similar trap that Houston does in that there’s likely more money to draw should the team be added via expansion rather than via relocation. Additionally, the geographic location on the East Coast would mean conference realignment, a proposition that would likely be hard to stomach given that the league added Vegas and Seattle — at least in part — for divisional balance and parity.
The odds are certainly stacked against it, but what if, by nothing short of a minor miracle, the Arizona Coyotes lived to tell another tale?
That’s what PHNX Sports writer Craig Morgan outlined on Wednesday after reports surfaced that the NHL wasn’t quite giving up on hockey in the desert.
Just to recap today's confirmed news:
👉The Coyotes will be playing at Mullett Arena next season.
👉There is a path forward for the team beyond that in Arizona.
As always, stay tuned to @PHNX_Coyotes & @PHNX_Sports for in-depth reporting.
— Craig Morgan (@CraigSMorgan) May 17, 2023
Reports throughout the day outlined that a return to the team’s first home of Footprint Center, then known as America West Arena, could be in the cards, though the set of circumstances to reach that point appears somewhat far-fetched.
Many things to consider related to the @ArizonaCoyotes news. 1) Could Suns owner Mat Ishbia have interest in buying the Yotes and moving them downtown? This might be ideal. Although, the building would obviously need a hockey reno.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) May 17, 2023
Dreger reported via TSN.ca that there could be interest from Phoenix Suns' new owner Mat Ishbia on partnering for a new building, though outright purchasing the Coyotes isn’t something reportedly being considered at this time.
Should the Coyotes move into the Purple Palace, however, the same problems that plagued them their first time around at the arena would again serve as hurdles in need of addressing.
Opened in 1992, the arena is built with basketball in mind, meaning that some seats are obstructed from view, while capacity for hockey games sits somewhere in the 14,000 range. Renovations would likely be required, but given that the building received a facelift less than half a decade ago, the appetite to do so again could be muted.
A year after the Nordiques left for Colorado, the Winnipeg Jets fled for Phoenix. Now, wouldn’t it be something if hockey returned to Quebec City nearly 30 years later by snatching back one of the clubs to flee The Great White North?
Of each of the destinations, Quebec City seems like the biggest pipe dream, despite the fact it would undoubtedly be a smashing success from a fan support perspective.
While the less than decade-old Videotron Centre holds up side-by-side with other NHL arenas, the biggest hurdles standing in the way of the Nordiques 2.0 are likely all logistical. For starters, much like Atlanta, their location would necessitate a restructuring of the NHL’s divisions, already putting the idea behind the 8-ball.
The NHL has also already shooed away Quebec City multiple times in the past decade. In 2015, Quebec telecom company Quebecor attempted to make a bid for an expansion franchise but had their bid deferred. Then, in 2017, the league again opened up an expansion window for Seattle to join the league but did not allow any other cities (see: City, Quebec) to make a bid at that time.
That doesn’t mean that the dream of eight Canadian clubs is entirely dead, however. Commissioner Bettman quelled thoughts that Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson would veto any potential Quebec competitor, a stance the owner himself has also stated. Ever the man to hold out the carrot, Bettman also shared during a press conference that, while the NHL was “not in expansion mode,” they would contact Quebec City should anything change.
The time doesn’t appear right for Quebec City as of yet, but be patient, because their day in the sun may be closer than one would think.