DAN BICKLEY

Arizona Coyotes relocation not our fault, it’s on the owner and local politics

Apr 13, 2024, 4:38 PM

The Arizona Coyotes...

The Arizona Coyotes salute the fans following the NHL game at Mullett Arena on January 09, 2024 in Tempe, Arizona. The Coyotes defeated the Bruins 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Say goodnight. The Coyotes are going dark. Their hockey players are relocating to Salt Lake City. Our inglorious run as a major league sports town is coming to an end. 

Such a sad, pathetic, unnecessary ending. 

For those clinging to hope and redemption, there is still an open window. Current owner Alex Meruelo can win a state land auction, as originally intended; navigate all the zoning issues, political shenanigans and unplanned expenses that will inconveniently pop up, while privately funding the development for a state-of-the-art hockey arena.  

He will reportedly have five years to pull off his own miracle on ice. 

Many have wondered if and why the NHL would welcome Meruelo back into the fold, an owner that stopped paying his bills in Glendale and couldn’t win an election in Tempe on acreage that currently houses a landfill. 

Maybe they don’t want him back in the club. Maybe the NHL is just calling his bluff. Or maybe this will be Meruelo’s ultimate litmus test after the rocky start to his stewardship in Arizona. As in: If he can pull this off, he will deserve to give $1 billion back to the NHL, get another hockey team in return and press reset with an expansion franchise in Arizona. 

Yeah. Not holding my breath. 

The shame is how we’ve squandered our big-league status. The Coyotes won a referendum for a new stadium in November 1999, on the same night the Spurs won a vote for a new arena in downtown San Antonio. Optimism was high. 

That public vote called for an arena to be built at Los Arcos, a run-down shopping mall on the doorstep of Old Town Scottsdale. That project went poof when the Scottsdale mayor didn’t trust Steve Ellman’s finances. The team landed in Glendale on a wing and a prayer, careening on almost two decades of relocation whispers that produced exactly one extended playoff run.   

Alas, their attempt to get back to the East Valley has been a disaster, namely the horribly botched opportunity in Tempe, where the Coyotes assumed voters would believe in big talk and pretty renderings. 

The shame is that we are a very good hockey town. 

While Canadian critics are surely chuckling and chortling over our endgame failure, they will certainly miss the convenient flights and cheap tickets to see their favorite teams play in the Valley. They are also missing the point. 

This failure is not ours. This is on the overextended owners who always gave us a diluted, diminished product, failing to provide the kind of playoff hockey that grows a fan base and sells itself. This is on the politicians who have sabotaged their efforts every step of the way.   

In the end, we are losing elite status, one of 13 cities/regions with all four major professional sports. We’re losing a young nucleus of talented hockey players, a roster leaving town at the tail end of a massive rebuild. And we might lose the grass-roots movement that made the Valley fertile ground for aspiring young hockey players, like current Toronto star Auston Matthews.      

So sad, so unnecessary. There was a time when the Coyotes were a real player in town. They had star power and a downtown address. They sparked real conversations around Valley water coolers. And, tragically, the only home to call their own was a palace built on quicksand, violating the top three rules of real estate: 

Location, location, location. 

Reach Bickley at dbickley@arizonasports.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 6 a.m. – 10 a.m. on Arizona Sports.

Dan Bickley

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Arizona Coyotes relocation not our fault, it’s on the owner and local politics