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Report: NHL is exploring a deal that could send the Arizona Coyotes to Salt Lake City

The Arizona Coyotes beat the Vancouver Canucks Wednesday, but it was off-the-ice news that is once again dominating the conversation about the Valley’s NHL team.

Multiple outlets are reporting that the league is preparing a contingency plan of sorts — two schedules for next season: one if the Coyotes stay in Tempe and one if the team is sold and relocated to Salt Lake City.

Daily Faceoff first reported on that this week. And, more details on which of those schedules would be used for next season could come this month.

Greg Wyshynski is senior NHL Writer for ESPN and is following the story. He joined The Show to talk about what's happening.

Full interview

MARK BRODIE: So is this some kind of acknowledgment from the NHL that the Coyotes time in the Phoenix area might be coming to an end?

GREG WYSHYNSKI: It certainly feels that way. As you said, an announcement could come by the end of the regular season that the Coyotes would be sold to Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith and relocate to the Delta Center in Salt Lake City. My colleague and I, Emily Kaplan, have done a lot of reporting on this in the last 24 hours. And I have to say that a lot of the sources we spoke to believe that this is going to happen.

Nothing is official yet. The NHL, the Coyotes, Salt Lake, all no commenting on the record. But the wind certainly seems to be blowing towards Salt Lake at this point.

BRODIE: Why now? Obviously the Coyotes had a deal in Tempe and there was a vote there that killed the deal. Why wouldn’t the NHL have done that then, as opposed to now, when the Coyotes seemingly have at least a path to a new arena?

WYSHYNSKI: Yeah, the timeline and the timeline on it is a little bit wonky, but I think the Tempe vote defeat is what really kind of changed the equation for the NHL. You could see in their statement after that vote failed, a little change in the tone and tenor of their language towards the future of the Coyotes.

But really what made this, it’s a twofold thing. The Coyotes obviously are going for that land auction in the summer. They believe they can acquire the land, build the multi-use facility that they want to create an arena for. But shovels wouldn’t be in the ground on that project until 2025, according to the team. And that means they would have to stay at Mullet Arena — the 5,000 seat facility on the campus of Arizona State University — until at least 2027. That’s a long time.

Meanwhile the Salt Lake bid — the Ryan Smith — the NHL wants to be in business with this guy. He’s willing to pony up upwards of $1.3 billion for an NHL team. They believe the market is strong, and I think they don’t really want to wait to see what comes out of this latest plan to build an arena outside of Phoenix.

BRODIE: Is there maybe a trust issue here where the league and commissioner Gary Bettman maybe don’t believe that this is actually going to happen in north Phoenix for the Coyotes?

WYSHYNSKI: Yeah. We should probably preface this by saying that when it becomes a trust issue, it’s not necessarily a trust issue with their owner Alex Meruelo. The NHL, I think, likes Meruelo.

And in fact, part of this situation with Salt Lake could be a contingency where if the NHL does come back to expand to Phoenix again, that Meruelo could be the guy who’s first in line to get a team and in fact, could see this entire land auction thing all the way through to build an arena for an eventual expansion team.

That being said, I do think that there is a little bit of skepticism about the facility and its surrounding areas being developed in the way the Coyotes wish that it will. And because of that — again, the Tempe thing I think was a lot cleaner. I think it was a lot more direct. I think the plans were a bit more concrete.

This one was a little bit more wishy-washy, if we’re going to use that term. And I think the NHL didn’t necessarily want to wait even longer to see if this thing is seen all the way through.

BRODIE: So Gary Bettman, the NHL commissioner, has been extremely supportive of keeping a team in Phoenix. I mean, there’s been a million times, seemingly, that the NHL could have said, “OK, we’re done. Like, this is the last straw.” But he’s been very bullish on this market.

It just seems kind of surprising from an outsider’s perspective — not somebody who covers the NHL and is sort of immersed in the NHL — that he would suddenly sort of change his mind, that there would be a last straw for him.

WYSHYNSKI: Well, as a veteran of watching many Glendale City Council meetings on my computer late at night, I can tell you that the NHL has fought a long time to keep the Coyotes in Arizona. They love the market. And I think there’s a reason to love the market, not only because of it being a strong television market.

Geographically, it fits nicely into the Western Conference with teams like Las Vegas and the California teams. But also the growth of hockey in Phoenix and in Arizona as a whole. You have the best goal scorer in the league right now, Auston Matthews, who grew up a Coyotes fan. Matthew Knies, his (Toronto Maple Leafs) teammate, Coyotes fan. Jake Doan. The list goes on and on of these players that have grown up in the area, inspired by the Coyotes to become hockey players.

So if the Coyotes leave — or when the Coyotes leave — I do believe that the NHL is going to come back at some point to this market. They think it’s a valuable one. They think it’s one that under the right circumstances, could really thrive.

So to answer your question in the short form, I think they believe in Phoenix, but I’m not quite sure they believe in the Coyotes anymore.

BRODIE: So what would have to change then? Like what would be the right conditions? Let’s assume for a moment that the Coyotes go to Salt Lake City and that at some point down the road the NHL says, “OK, we’re ready to come back to Phoenix.” What would have to be different so that the situation would not be what it has been?

WYSHYNSKI: It could be a simple rebranding. I mean, I think the Coyotes name and all the other stuff will probably stay with Alex Meruelo, but it could be a simple rebranding. And, you know, this is my opinion. This isn’t this isn’t from any of the reporting, but you could see a scenario in which they maybe hope that by paying off Meruelo for the franchise, relocating it to Salt Lake City — maybe the arena, gambit that the Coyotes are trying now doesn’t necessarily work. Maybe Meruelo decides to move on to other things, and maybe it’s a different owner when they decide to come back to Phoenix.

I’m not saying that’s where the NHL’s thinking is, but you can see a scenario in which that plays out. So again, is it the current ownership group that fans don’t have faith in? I couldn’t tell you that definitively. But I do think that there is a way to come back to this market with a cleaner slate.

I still think that Tempe vote fails partially because people see Coyotes. They think they didn’t “pay their bills” in Glendale. And they didn’t have faith that that arena plan was going to be seen all the way through without problems.

BRODIE: That is really interesting. Well, and as you say, we could have more on this as the NHL season wraps up. So feel free to come back and chat with us when we know more about this. That is Greg Wyshynski, senior NHL writer for ESPN. Greg, good to talk to you. Thank you.

WYSHYNSKI: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record. 

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Mark Brodie is a co-host of The Show, KJZZ’s locally produced news magazine. Since starting at KJZZ in 2002, Brodie has been a host, reporter and producer, including several years covering the Arizona Legislature, based at the Capitol.