What the Arizona Coyotes are saying about the NHL team’s rumored move to Utah

After an emotional trip, the hockey team heads home for possible farewell in Arizona.

(Lindsey Wasson | AP) Arizona Coyotes goaltender Karel Vejmelka looks down during the third period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Seattle Kraken, Tuesday, April 9, 2024, in Seattle.

Calgary • How do you prepare your team for their possible final game in their home city, just days after you’ve learned it could be the end?

“How about I digest that one?” Arizona Coyotes head coach Andre Tourigny said when asked. “We’ll figure that out. It’ll be a day off tomorrow, well-earned after that long trip and all the emotion.”

Tourigny and the Coyotes had just finished their penultimate game of the season, a 6-5 loss to the Calgary Flames on a mid-April Sunday evening. Neither team was vying for a playoff spot. Instead, that game could be marked as the beginning of the franchise’s final week in Arizona.

It was revealed Wednesday that the NHL is preparing for the Coyotes’ potential relocation to Salt Lake City before the 2024-25 NHL season. By Friday, Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong told his players that relocation was possible and that players might soon visit their new home city. Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo released a statement Saturday afternoon saying the team was focused on a “myriad of issues that are unresolved” and couldn’t comment publicly on the team’s future.

“However, you have my commitment that I am going to speak on all of these issues and publicly address all of your concerns as promptly as possible,” Meruelo added.

The Coyotes spent the past week playing out a five-game road trip along the West Coast and through Alberta, unsure of their franchise’s fate beyond next season while trying to finish their season strong. They completed the trip with a 3-2 record, including overtime victories over the playoff-bound Vancouver Canucks and Edmonton Oilers.

“I think our guys showed a lot of character in the last week,” Tourigny said.

Tourigny, however, declined to answer when asked how he felt the organization handled the situation.

“There’s lots of stuff going around the league with every team,” Coyotes forward Alex Kerfoot said. “There’s always distractions. There’s always stuff that’s going on in people’s minds. So, this is no different. We’ve played 80 games together. This one was no different. Just got to keep it professional out there, go about your business and try to win hockey games.”

Before Armstrong met with players on Friday, two other Coyotes players — Lawson Crouse and Clayton Keller — addressed the media about their team’s situation before playing the Edmonton Oilers later that night.

“We saw it everywhere just like everyone,” Crouse said. “We don’t know anything more than what everyone else is seeing.”

“We’ve just tried to focus on hockey,” Keller said. “Since I’ve played in Arizona, there’s always been a lot of rumors and stuff like that. So, I think, we’ll try to do as best as we can to focus on hockey.

“Throughout this whole time, there hasn’t been a ton of discussion on what’s going on, I guess. We’ve just kind of taken it day by day, heard different things here and there and none of them are really true. So, we just kind of learn from that and take it day by day.”

The Coyotes have spent the last several years in the news for business reasons, primarily arena and ownership concerns. Following the 2021-22 season, the Coyotes were kicked out of their previous home, Gila River Arena, by the city of Glendale. The move came after failed discussions over lease extensions amid multiple notices concerning outstanding balances under their previous lease agreement. The Coyotes have since made their home at Mullett Arena, a sub-5,000-seat venue on the Arizona State University campus.

“It’s not an NHL rink,” Calgary Flames defenceman Rasmus Andersson said. “That’s how I’m going to put it. Probably good for college. But for the NHL, it’s not an NHL rink.”

While Coyotes ownership is bidding on a 110-acre plot of land in North Phoenix to build their new home, Mullett Arena was expected to remain their home through the 2024-25 campaign. If relocation plans are finalized as expected, those plans will be moot.

On Sunday morning following his team’s morning skate, Andersson expressed sympathy for Coyotes players and their complicated situation.

“I’m thinking about the players that have been there a long time,” Andersson said. “(Clayton) Keller and (Nick) Schmaltz and those kinds of guys. Been there a long time, probably bought a house in Arizona and lived there for the most part of their adult life. And then you read that you might be moving without knowing too much. It could be tricky. So, you know, you feel for the guys.”

“For them, it’s got to be kind of weird not knowing much about their future leading into next year,” Flames forward Connor Zary said. “But I think they’re the same as us, right? They’re just hockey players and they’re normal guys. I’m sure they’re just trying to finish out the season hard, look forward to their summer and hopefully get their stuff sorted out.”

The Coyotes’ final game of the season, possibly their last ever in Arizona, will be a Wednesday night home matchup against Edmonton.

This article originally appeared in The Athletic.