Gordon Monson: If Ryan Smith gets the Coyotes or an expansion team, you’ll fall hard for NHL hockey

If the Arizona Coyotes don’t win a land auction this summer, it might spell the end of the NHL franchise’s time in Phoenix — and that would be a win for Utahns.

Arizona Coyotes center Nick Schmaltz (8) celebrates his goal against the Colorado Avalanche during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Nov. 30, 2023, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

You want another major league team here? You want it the quick and easy way? You want the Coyotes to come to Salt Lake City?

H-e-double-hockey-sticks, yeah.

You do. Whether or not you actually know you do, you do.

How do I know this?

Because I know hockey, that’s how. And all the rest of you out there who know hockey, you know it, too.

Those of you who don’t know hockey, if Ryan Smith has his way, will know it soon enough. And you’ll know that you know it, too. The sooner, the better.

I’m not talking minor league hockey here, although that brand — Grizzlies, hello — has its charms and has a small, hardcore following. Those folks will bark, where’s the widespread media coverage been for Utah’s ECHL entry? If you know hockey, where’s the love been for the outfit at the Maverik Center?

A concession: It’s been mostly absent around here. Why? For the same reason the Salt Lake City Stars don’t get much mention. They operate south of the standard that is a must, at least in most cases in most cities, to draw proper attention: the majors.

You play at your sport’s top pro level, and you play well, you have to really screw it up not to get folks coming through the gates, especially a quality game like the one played in the NHL.

Let’s back up to get a full skating start at this.

The Arizona Coyotes are in trouble. They’ve been in trouble for a long time. They’ve lost money every year of their existence since they moved from Winnipeg to the Phoenix area back in the ′90s. Their franchise is estimated to be valued at around $675 million, which is the lowest of any of the league’s 32 teams. They currently play in a college arena with a 4,600-seat capacity, practicing in a facility that falls well short of those used by other NHL clubs.

Why are they failing? Because, yeah, they’ve really screwed things up. It’s more complicated than just that, but at present they’re in desperate need of a place to play and a culture and formula that enables winning. As is, the league’s players association and Coyotes players are rightfully complaining about their situation. The team is hoping to get in on a land auction that might give it its last chance at staying in Phoenix, granting it 95 acres upon which to build a proper arena, facilities and the attendant multi-use structures that are all the rage these days. That aforementioned public auction takes place the last week of June.

Bottom line: If the Coyotes don’t win the auction, curtains may drop on the ice in Phoenix. Therefore and forthwith, enter Salt Lake City. The NHL would prefer the Coyotes stay in Phoenix, and Coyotes ownership wants to stay there, but … if they can’t, they can’t.

Back to SLC. Should Smith want to buy the Coyotes? Would they be available to him? The answers are yes and maybe. Any NHL team that has proper ownership, ownership that has vision and that makes solid decisions will succeed.

Would the Coyotes — or whatever they would come to be called — thrive in Salt Lake? See the answer above. If Smith has good judgment and is willing to spend more of his money.

Would Utah sports fans fill an arena? Same answer. Those who doubt there’s enough purchasing power in the Salt Lake area to do so, what with the Jazz here and RSL and the Royals and college sports, are flinging worry for the sake of worry. Population along the Wasatch Front is growing and will continue to do so, not just population, but corporate firepower as well.

If an NHL team is run and put together as it can and should be … well, is there an echo in here?

Top-drawer hockey is a spectacular sport. Ask fans in Montreal and Detroit and Toronto and Vancouver and Minnesota. And it’s not just the traditional iced-over metros that bring in the crowds. Check out Carolina and Tampa Bay and Vegas and Los Angeles and Nashville. They do more than just OK.

For those who know little more about NHL hockey than the fact that fights sometimes break out on the ice, once you get a taste of the speed and skill and grace and strategy and eloquence of the sport, and, uh-huh, physicality, too, you’ll understand the excitement that comes alongside. These guys are remarkable athletes who do remarkable things, and the teamwork that comes alongside is addicting to those who regularly attend.

I grew up going to Philadelphia Flyer games and the old Spectrum was electric, charged by players like Bobby Clarke and Bernie Parent and Bill Barber and Bob Kelly and Rick MacLeish and Moose Dupont and Dave Schultz and a whole lot more. They were a gas to watch and when they won Stanley Cups, the fans in Philly went berserk. It was enough fun that my friends in the neighborhood and I all started playing hockey — on ice, on asphalt, on gym floors, anywhere and everywhere we could.

I can see that for Salt Lake City and all the towns around it.

Even when the Grizzlies won the Turner Cup years ago, the Delta Center was filled up for playoff games. There’s nothing better in sports than playoff hockey in the NHL.

Don’t know if the Coyotes will get their land in Phoenix, don’t know if they’ll move or get sold. What I do know is that if Smith runs the hockey team he so badly wants in the way it should be run, Salt Lakers will fall hard for the game. Even if, right now, they don’t know it.