Utah officially has an NHL team

The Arizona Coyotes will relocate to the Beehive State and start play next season.

(Ross D. Franklin | AP) Arizona Coyotes players acknowledge the fans after an NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Tempe, Ariz. The Coyotes won 5-2. The NHL on Thursday announced the team will move to Salt Lake City next season.

Utah is now home to a National Hockey League franchise.

The NHL on Thursday announced that the Arizona Coyotes will effectively relocate to Salt Lake City starting in the 2024-25 season.

Smith Entertainment Group — led by Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith and his wife, Ashley — reportedly paid between $1.2 and $1.3 billion for the franchise.

“As everyone knows, Utah is a vibrant and thriving state, and we are thrilled to be a part of it,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a news release. “We are also delighted to welcome Ashley and Ryan Smith to the NHL family and know they will be great stewards of the game in Utah. We thank them for working so collaboratively with the League to resolve a complex situation in this unprecedented and beneficial way.”

The Coyotes’ franchise will become inactive, with all of its hockey assets, players and draft picks, moving to a new franchise in Utah. Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo will have the opportunity to reactivate the franchise if he secures a new arena for the team within five years.

Ryan Smith told the official NHL website that the team will have Utah in the name, not Salt Lake City. He added that determining the new team’s nickname, though, will be a process that could take a while.

“So, we’ll start with ‘Utah’ on the jersey, and we’ll figure out the logo and everything else and what it is that we are. But that’s a one-way door,” he said. “You get to do it once. And with this timeline, I think both the league feels better and we feel better to just run the process, and then we’ll drop it when we drop it.”

Ryan and Ashley Smith said in a statement that their intent was always to bring an NHL team to Utah through expansion. But that changed when Bettman approached them with the situation in Arizona and a need to remedy it.

“When he approached us and asked us for help resolving this situation, we made the bold decision to introduce a new franchise in Utah, fully understanding that we are stepping up to do something in a time frame and way that has never been done before in professional sports under these circumstances,” they said. “We are committed to building a Stanley Cup contending team and are thrilled to welcome incredible players, coaches, staff, and their families to Utah. Today is a great day for Utah, for hockey, and for building a legacy that will have a lasting impact for generations to come.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall released a statement voicing her approval of the new team.

“This announcement is about more than bringing an NHL team to Salt Lake City — it’s a defining moment in our trajectory, becoming a catalyst for a positive vision that integrates community, connection, and more possibilities for families, residents, and visitors to experience our capital city,” Mendenhall said. “I’m thankful for the close partnership with Ryan and Ashley Smith, and the entire SEG team. This is the beginning of a new era that will generate exciting opportunities for our communities, amplify pride and unlock new potential in our downtown core.”

The move has been rumored for weeks, and one that has Utah sports fans buzzing.

Braden Clark, of Cache County, reacted with a healthy level of skepticism when the notion of an NHL team coming to Utah was first floated.

“That’s never going to happen,” Clark thought, remembering that the league had recently expanded to 32 teams with the Seattle Kraken.

But now that the Beehive State is getting the Arizona Coyotes via relocation, Clark could barely contain his joy.

“I’m ecstatic about the fact that Utah is getting its own team,” Clark said. “I’m extremely excited to embark on this new chapter of Utah sports and to see all the new things that are going to come with it.”

Since the rumors first started circulating, fans like Clark have been abuzz and waiting for the official announcement. They’ve flooded social media channels with ideas for a team name and color scheme. They made plans to watch the final Coyotes game, which occurred Wednesday night against the Edmond Oilers.

Steven Cundick is one of the fans who watched Arizona’s final game. He did so on an antenna that he used to watch Jazz games this season, he said. And the conversation between him and a group of his close friends has already surrounded how to afford season tickets for the new team in Utah.

“It’ll totally depend on the price point,” Cundick said. “If we do do it, we’ll be sharing it amongst probably six to eight guys and probably buy two or four tickets to that group of people and then we’ll just divide up the games. I think if all we can afford to do is nosebleeds, which is what I kind of suspect based on what I think the pricing will be, I think we still will likely move forward with it.”

Cundick considers himself a new hockey fan. He already closely follows local teams like the Jazz, Utah football and basketball, and Real Salt Lake. He’s kept up with the branding ideas others have proposed online, although he described his excitement as “tempered” because he hasn’t exactly been thrilled with how Smith rebranded the Jazz.

“I think Ryan Smith is kind of 0-for-1 on that part,” Cundick said.

Of all the names that have been bandied about alone, Cundick said his favorite is the Cutthroat.

“I would be all in on that because it’s unique to Utah, there’s no other major league team with that name, and I think it kind of sounds tough,” Cundick said. “It’s a double meeting between the trout but also kind of the sound of cutthroat just sounds kind of tough.”

Clark, meanwhile, is partial to naming the Utah NHL team the Blizzard.

“It keeps with the double Z mantra that we’ve had here in the state for a very long time with obviously the Jazz, the Buzz, the Grizzlies, those kinds of teams,” Clark said.

The new team will play at the Delta Center. The state legislature passed a bill that would fund a new sports and entertainment district around the arena with $1 billion of taxpayer money, and Smith earlier this month applied to work with SLC on a proposal to revitalize that part of downtown.

Living in Cache Valley means Clark won’t make it out to many NHL games. But he said he is planning to attend the first one because it will be “historic,” and having a team in the state means he’ll make it out to SLC a little more.

Clark also said once he knows what the team name and other branding is, he’ll buy merchandise for his family to wear.

“The things that excite me the most is just kind of embracing the new brand — whatever it is — getting to know the players on the team, the coaching staff, and then smaller things like listening to the podcasts that the people that cover the team [will do] and getting to know those people as they come to Utah,” Clark said.

Greg Leeb, former Grizzlies assistant coach and current hockey development director for player development with the Junior Grizzlies, said he most wants to see “the enthusiasm and the support” from the community for the new Utah team. He also said that in the Junior Grizzlies playing youth programs from Las Vegas and Arizona, he’s seen the number of young hockey players grow over the years. He thinks Utah getting an NHL could make a similar impact at the youth level.

“We’ve seen it,” Leeb said. “We play against them and we’ve seen how those programs improve as well. So it would definitely probably have a positive impact around here as well.”