SPORTS

League approves new NHL team in Utah owned by Ryan, Ashley Smith

Apr 18, 2024, 1:56 PM | Updated: 5:15 pm

SALT LAKE CITY – The NHL Board Of Governors unanimously approved the establishment of a new hockey franchise in Utah by Ryan and Ashley Smith and Smith Entertainment Group (SEG) using the assets of the Arizona Coyotes.

In addition, the board approved a future reactivation of a franchise in Arizona if certain conditions are met.

“Effective at closing, the approved transactions will result in the Coyotes’ franchise transferring the totality of its existing hockey assets – including its full Reserve List, roster of Players and draft picks and its Hockey Operations Department – to the Utah franchise,” read the press release from the National Hockey League.

The Utah franchise does not have a name yet… but Smith is committed to giving hockey fans in Utah a say.

The team will likely play its first season without a name or branding, SEG wants to take their time and get it right.

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“I have a ton of faith in Utah. Utahns show up,” Smith told KSL Sports of his drive to bring an NHL team to Utah. “Everyone keeps telling us why we can’t, but if you want these things to happen, you have to take advantage of the moments.”

NHL To Utah

For hockey fans in Utah, this news feels like a long time coming after Smith announced his commitment and readiness to bring a franchise to Utah earlier this year.

“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. “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.”

In the press release, Ryan and Ashley Smith expressed a commitment to bring high-level hockey to the Salt Lake valley.

“We are honored to bring an NHL team to Utah and understand the responsibility we have as stewards of a new NHL franchise,” said the Smiths “This is a transformative day for our state and our fans. Our intention had always been to pursue an expansion team. Commissioner Bettman conceived and proposed an ingenious plan that would allow us to acquire an NHL franchise while also helping to address and remedy an immediate need of the NHL. 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.

“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,” the Smiths continued.

From Winnipeg to the Wasatch Front

While the hockey franchise in Utah is a brand new one, it’s worth looking at the history of the Arizona Coyotes and how they got where they are.

The Winnipeg Jets, who eventually relocated to Phoenix, were founded in 1972.

After seven years in the World Hockey Association and 17 years in the NHL, the Jets moved to Arizona in 1996 and rebranded to the Coyotes.

The Coyotes were never able to find much success. In 19 years, the Yotes won more than 40 games just three times and finished first in the division once.

RELATED: Coyotes Roster: Will Team Be Competitive After Potential Move To Salt Lake?

In February 2022, the Coyotes solved arena issues by moving to Arizona State University’s 5,000-seat Mullett Arena as a short-term solution. However, this caused other problems considering the average capacity for an NHL arena is around 17,000.

If the Coyotes can meet certain requirements, they will have the opportunity to reinstate the franchise. One of those requirements is a new, state-of-the-art arena for the team to call home.

“The NHL’s belief in Arizona has never wavered. We thank Alex Meruelo for his commitment to the franchise and Arizona, and we fully support his ongoing efforts to secure a new home in the desert for the Coyotes. We also want to acknowledge the loyal hockey fans of Arizona, who have supported their team with dedication for nearly three decades while growing the game,” Bettman said.

Coyotes’ performance in 2023

The Arizona Coyotes finished 13th in the Western Conference with a record of 36-41-5.

It was Arizona’s best record since the 2018-2019 season and just the fourth time the team has reached 35 wins in the past decade.

Clayton Keller was the team leader in points with 76. The only other Coyote to finish in the top 100 was Nick Schmaltz with 61.

In the first half of the season, Arizona was competing for a playoff spot. They were 23-19-3 and the young core was proving they may not have to wait to compete.

Unfortunately, relocation rumors in January were followed by a 14-game losing streak.

The Coyotes finished the season with 13 wins and 10 losses but the winless month of February scratched any shot at the postseason.

Smith: Utah ready for NHL ‘now’

While as many as six locations have explored NHL expansion across North America, Smith said earlier this year that there is one determining factor that sets Utah apart.

“We’re saying, ‘Hey, we’re ready, and we can we can do it now.’ We don’t we don’t need to go build an arena to land a team right now.”

On X, Smith posted that in just two hours, over 6,000 season ticket deposits were sent in.

Where will Utah’s NHL team play?

new arena is in the team’s plans, SEG “made clear its immediate ability to welcome an NHL team to Utah, using Delta Center as an interim home arena for an NHL franchise”.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve been holding NHL games and we’ve done the Frozen Fury in the Delta Center,” Smith told Pat McAfee during an appearance on the ESPN/YouTube show. “It fits, it works. It’s not as many seats as we would like because it’s not configured the right way, but we can probably get 14,000 plus (fans) in there and get going on a launch.”

MORE: How Would NHL Move Affect Utah Jazz, Delta Center?

 

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League approves new NHL team in Utah owned by Ryan, Ashley Smith