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Even with no current expansion plans, Salt Lake City is preparing for an NHL team

Arizona Coyotes left wing Michael Carcone (53) and New York Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba (8) battle for the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Tempe, Ariz.
Matt York
/
AP
Arizona Coyotes left wing Michael Carcone (53) and New York Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba (8) battle for the puck during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Saturday, March 30, 2024, in Tempe, Ariz.

Preparations are being made behind the scenes and in the public eye in case an NHL team is in Salt Lake City sooner than later.

Prospective owner Ryan Smith on social media earlier this week solicited suggestions for a team name. Smith, who owns the NBA's Utah Jazz, in January noted not only his interest in having an NHL club in Salt Lake City but the ability to make that happen immediately.

The Smith Entertainment Group asked at the time for the initiation of an expansion process, something multiple groups in Atlanta are also eager for. It also comes amid continued uncertainty surrounding the Arizona Coyotes, who are playing a second season in a 5,000-seat arena and are still looking for a long-term home.

NHL Players’ Association executive director Marty Walsh has repeatedly expressed frustration over the Coyotes’ current situation as the second tenant in a building on Arizona State's campus in Tempe. Commissioner Gary Bettman has said owner Alex Meruelo is working on it.

“It’s hard work, and he’s committed to it,” Bettman told The Associated Press last month. “I think people are craving certainty. And we are, too, but this isn’t a 60-minute game where the light goes on and the game’s over.”

The Coyotes last week said they're committed to winning an auction for a plot of land in Phoenix that would house a 17,000-seat arena and entertainment district. The Arizona State Land Department set the auction for June 27 with a starting bid of $68.5 million.

The schedule for next season is usually released in late June, after the Stanley Cup is handed out, around the draft and before free agency opens July 1. Daily Faceoff reported Wednesday that the league is working on separate schedule drafts in case the team is playing in Arizona or Utah.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the league had no comment on that report. Bettman, when asked last month about the schedule and the possible contingency plans, said only, “We still have some time.”

The Smith Entertainment Group and the Coyotes had no comment on the report.

The Jazz ownership plan calls for using the Delta Center as a temporary home for a hockey team until a new arena is constructed. That group has been talking to the league since 2022.

“During conversations over the course of the past two years, we have been impressed by Ryan and Ashley Smith’s commitment to their community and their passion and vision for Utah, not only as a hockey market but as a preeminent sports and entertainment destination,” the NHL said in a statement in January. “Utah is a promising market, and we look forward to continuing our discussions.”

One plan, according to Daily Faceoff, involves Meruelo selling to Smith for $1 billion or more with the ability to bring the Coyotes back as an expansion team once an arena is built.

The NHL has said it has no current plans to expand beyond 32 teams, despite speculation over potential additions in Salt Lake City, Atlanta and Houston.

Founded in 1846 in New York City, The Associated Press is a not-for-profit news agency.
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