Utah lawmakers unanimously pass resolution backing NHL bid

Jan 29, 2024, 12:44 PM | Updated: Jan 30, 2024, 7:13 am

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Senate unanimously backed a resolution supporting the Smith Entertainment Group’s bid to bring the National Hockey League to the Beehive State.

Senators were joined by Ryan and Ashley Smith for the vote on Monday. Also scheduled for Monday afternoon was a virtual meeting between Gov. Spencer Cox and the NHL.

The Smiths’ group formally asked the NHL to begin the expansion process last week, saying Utah is “immediately” ready to host a team at the Delta Center.

Lisa Kriley, who has been coaching power skating for the last 30 years, said she has noticed the hockey community growing in the state over the last decade. She said bringing in the NHL would be a game-changer for young athletes.

“Because they travel to go watch the NHL, and we have many ex-NHL players that live here, so it’s on the minds of the youth all the time … so having it in your backyard would mean that much more motivation to get to that level,” Kriley said.

The conversation between the Smith Entertainment Group and the NHL started in 2022. Following last week’s expansion request, the NHL called Utah a “promising market.”

The big push for bringing the NHL to the state comes as Utah awaits that final check to host the Winter Olympics in 2034. If the Beehive State lands both, a new hockey arena is in the cards, according to Ryan Smith.

“All eyes are on Utah for the recent and rapid evolution of our sports landscape, especially with the Utah Royals back this spring and Salt Lake City’s Olympic bid underway,” Smith said. “There is so much momentum happening at the state level around global sports and sports infrastructure.

“While Delta Center is ready to serve as an interim solution for an NHL team, Utah will need a new arena designed for professional and Olympic hockey.”

And the likelihood of that NHL team coming is “starting to feel inevitable,” according to ESPN’s Emily Kaplan. In her report, she said one NHL owner said it’s clear that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman trusts Smith and is interested in doing business with him.

Kaplan also noted the ongoing struggle of the Arizona Coyotes to find a new arena. Currently, the Coyotes play in Arizona State University’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena. The team attempted to lock down a site for an arena in Tempe, but that effort was overwhelmingly shot down by voters.

According to Arizona Sports’ John Gambadoro, the Coyotes in August started the process to develop the first privately funded sports and entertainment district in the state. Arizona aims to have an arena site locked down soon so a new arena’s completion is in time for the start of the 2026-27 season.

But NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh said “the clock is ticking” on Arizona’s stadium issues. The Athletic reported the league felt like the Coyotes need to have solid plans in place by the end of the month or they could risk relocation.

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Utah lawmakers unanimously pass resolution backing NHL bid