The Coyotes’ move to Salt Lake City is drawing contrasting reactions in two cities

Arizona Coyotes Chairman and Governor Alex Meruelo (left0) speaks as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman listens

Associated press

Arizona Coyotes Chairman and Governor Alex Meruelo (left0) speaks as NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman listens as they hold a press conference.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman sat next to the former Arizona Coyotes owner in a conference room in downtown Phoenix and tried to put a positive spin on a franchise’s funeral.

Later Friday, Bettman sat next to the new Coyotes owner in Salt Lake City to enjoy the excitement of the league’s newest city and a fan base eager for another team to join the NBA’s Utah Jazz.

One day there were two drastically different press conferences for the same hockey team.

“If you look back from the perspective of the last 30 years, NHL support for hockey in Arizona has been unwavering, to say the least,” Bettman said Friday in Phoenix. “And for everyone who has been on that journey with us, there have been countless times when we could have made a different decision, but we didn’t. And I hope everyone understands that this is a place that we believe that hockey works.”

But only under the right circumstances.

Hockey has operated in the desert for 27 years, albeit with some major potholes.

In the Coyotes’ 28th year since moving from Winnipeg, those ruts derailed the franchise and sent it to Utah.

Alex Meruelo, forced by self-inflicted circumstances beyond his control, sold the Coyotes to Smith Entertainment Group on Thursday, a deal that was unanimously approved by the NHL Board of Governors. The $1.2 billion deal gives SEG owner Ryan Smith control of the franchise’s hockey operations, while Meruelo will retain the name and continue business operations as he attempts to build a long-awaited new hockey arena in Arizona.

Bettman approached Meruelo on March 6 with a proposal to sell their team so it could play in an arena that meets NHL standards (the 4,500-seat Mullett Arena did not) and, despite initial hesitations, pulled the deal within six weeks round.

“We’ve focused on the fact that this is the kind of owners we want, and this is the kind of community we want to be a part of,” Bettman said. “For us, the opportunity to come to Salt Lake City was something we were very focused on and something we wanted to achieve – and it wasn’t easy.”

The deal provoked contrasting reactions in two states.

Utah fans were expectedly excited and have already collected 11,000 season ticket deposits in the first few hours of the sale. Smith said that number rose to 22,700 on Friday.

The yet-to-be-named team will already have a solid foundation, one laid by Coyotes general manager Bill Armstrong during an aggressive rebuild that began three years ago. The team has a talented core, players like Clayton Keller, Logan Cooley and Dylan Guenther, who are pushing to return the franchise to the playoffs for the first time since the 2012 Western Conference Finals – outside of the 2020 pandemic bubble .

Utah fans met Bettman on Friday to thunderous applause in Salt Lake City — a rarity for the commissioner — as groups of people gathered outside the Delta Center to take photos in front of the new “NHL in Utah” signs.

“For Utah, I hope we have the same support and confidence in ourselves that they (the NHL) have in us,” Smith said while sitting next to Bettman and his wife, Ashley. “It’s a big bet on us and I’m incredibly surprised, but not surprised, at how we show up. I have never seen so many Republicans and Democrats, religious leaders and educational leaders all on the same page.”

Arizona fans were decidedly dejected and accusatory, claiming that Meruelo and the rest of the Coyotes’ management were deceitful about the team’s annual declarations that it would remain in Arizona for the long term.

The flickering light at the end of the long tunnel is a promise that the Coyotes franchise will be “reactivated” when a new arena is built within five years. Meruelo’s group has its sights set on a June land auction for a $68.5 million parcel of land in North Phoenix, land they hope to develop into an entertainment district with a new arena.

“You have my promise to do everything in my power to keep the Coyotes in the Valley. one of the few communities in the country with four professional sports teams,” Meruelo said. “This is a global sports market.”

One without a hockey team for the foreseeable future.