Preparations are being made for a potential NHL team in Salt Lake City

The Coyotes have been experiencing uncertainties in Arizona.

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Preparations are being made behind the scenes and in the public eye in case an NHL team is in Salt Lake City sooner than later, perhaps as early as this fall.

After prospective owner Ryan Smith earlier this week solicited suggestions for a team name, word emerged Wednesday that the league has been working on contingency plans in case the Arizona Coyotes move this summer.

The NHL has been working on two schedule drafts for next season in case the team is in Arizona or playing under a different name in Utah, according to a person familiar with the planning. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because no decisions have been made.

The schedule for next season is usually released in late June, after the Stanley Cup is handed out, around the draft and before free agency opens July 1. Commissioner Gary Bettman, when asked last month about the schedule and the possible contingency plans, said only, “We still have some time.”

While the NHL, Coyotes and Smith Entertainment Group declined comment on the dual-schedule report, other machinations are underway to prepare for possible relocation. According to multiple published reports, the league sent a memo to owners updating them on the situation while cautioning there are moving parts and nothing is done.

If a sale to Smith happens soon, it would come after months of speculation after the owner of the NBA’s Utah Jazz announced in January not only his interest in having an NHL club in Salt Lake City but the ability to make that happen immediately. Smith's group asked at the time for the initiation of an expansion process, something multiple groups in Atlanta are also eager for.

The timing, while preparations are underway for Salt Lake City to host the 2034 Winter Olympics, coincided with continued uncertainty surrounding the Coyotes, who are playing a second season in a 5,000-seat arena and are still looking for a long-term home.

NHL Players’ Association executive director Marty Walsh has repeatedly expressed frustration over the Coyotes’ current situation as the second tenant in a building on Arizona State's campus in Tempe. Bettman has said owner Alex Meruelo is working on it.

“It’s hard work, and he’s committed to it,” Bettman told The Associated Press last month. “I think people are craving certainty. And we are, too, but this isn’t a 60-minute game where the light goes on and the game’s over.”

The Coyotes last week said they're committed to winning an auction for a plot of land in Phoenix that would house a 17,000-seat arena and entertainment district. The Arizona State Land Department set the auction for June 27 with a starting bid of $68.5 million.

An arena already exists in downtown Salt Lake City, and the Jazz ownership plan calls for using the Delta Center as a temporary home for a hockey team until a new building is constructed. That group has been talking to the league since 2022.

“During conversations over the course of the past two years, we have been impressed by Ryan and Ashley Smith’s commitment to their community and their passion and vision for Utah, not only as a hockey market but as a preeminent sports and entertainment destination,” the NHL said in a statement in January. “Utah is a promising market, and we look forward to continuing our discussions.”

One plan, according to Daily Faceoff, which first reported the schedule contingency, involves Meruelo selling to Smith for $1 billion or more with the ability to bring the Coyotes back as an expansion team once an arena is built.

The NHL has said it has no current plans to expand beyond 32 teams, despite speculation over potential additions in Salt Lake City, Atlanta and Houston.

The National Hockey League is sending players to compete at the Winter Olympics in 2026 and 2030, marking the return of NHL players to the Games for the first time since 2014.
Copyright AP - Associated Press
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