When you think of hockey, you most likely think of a frozen lake, a white snowy wonderland, and folks watching the game they love, all nice and cozied up. Well, what if I told you that a NHL franchise was stationed in one of the top ten hottest states in America, where snow never falls, and if you were to look outside, you would see desert for miles. That’s right, I present to you, the Arizona Coyotes. Hockey in the desert has long been criticized, and depending on which way you look at it, there is some validity to the arguments. The Coyotes have a long history of mediocrity, financial troubles, and even lack of interest from fans, but recent events have raised concerns to new levels.
Let’s start with the obvious, Gila River Arena. Home to the Coyotes since it’s construction in 2003, the arena and the city of Glendale have announced the eviction of the Coyotes starting in the 2022-2023 season. City manager Kevin Phelps has made it clear that a lot of time and thought was put into this decision, and was not made in a vacuum. It has never been a secret that the Coyotes situation with Glendale was less than ideal, as the team has been on a year to year basis with the arena. It was considered by most, that the Coyotes would be the ones to end the agreement officially. Now, as a die hard fan, I have been able to ignore the rumors of the Coyotes leaving Arizona for a while, but as more stories of my favorite team surface, the fears have begun to creep in. As expected, the team have made a statement to say they were “disappointed” with the cities decisions. However, it is not all doom and gloom for hockey in the Grand Canyon State.
If you didn’t already know, in 2019, Alex Meruelo became the Coyotes new majority owner. This was very promising news for Coyotes fans, as Meruelo was known for his ability to turn around failing businesses, which was almost exactly what the Coyotes were. In the first two years of the new ownership, the Coyotes saw almost a ten percent attendance increase. As well, Meruelo has shown commitment to keep the Coyotes in the state of Arizona where they belong, and has promised to find a long term arena solution.
An interesting piece to this puzzle is a 46 acre parcel of land located near downtown Tempe Arizona. Back in July of 2021, it was claimed by a source in the Tempe government that a bid had been placed on the parcel, and after the eviction announcement, the Coyotes had no problem claiming the bid as their own. Later in September, it was released that the Coyotes put in a 1.7 billion dollar bid for a mixed use project. It is rumored the project would include restaurants, shops, and apartments to go with the new stadium. This proposal would include an entire investment group, as well as 200 million dollars from the city of Tempe. As of now, the Coyotes are the only bid on the Parcel of land, and the evaluation process could take several months, but knowing the ownership group wants to stay in Arizona is a huge relief to fans such as myself. If you have been keeping up with the NHL news over the past few years, you have probably heard at least some rumors’ of a relocation to places such as Houston, Kansas City, and even Quebec. I’m not saying a move like this would be a bad idea, but what I am saying is, it should be somebody else’s team.
Now, the thought of a shiny new stadium in Tempe sounds great and all, but what about next year? Unless they hire Bob the Builder himself, there is no way the Coyotes will be playing on that parcel. The front runner for next season thus far, is the Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix. This saddle dome style stadium built in 1952, has a capacity of around 14,800 people, and would make a great temporary solution. As well, the temporary move would bring the Coyotes closer to where most believe they would have most financial success. Glendale has been criticized as being too far west, and too long of a commute for fans, which has also been linked to the attendance issues. Gila River arena has never been seen as a outstanding stadium, and in fact, it was rated 22nd and 27th in the league by Stadium Journey, and Sports BetMGM.
To sum it up, if the front office and ownership group do not properly handle the next few years, the state of Arizona could lose an important team to not only fans, but the NHL as a whole. Over the past couple years, Coyotes fans such as myself have been put through a lot, including losing draft picks to cheating scandals, rumors’ of workplace dysfunction, Taylor Hall leaving us after ten months just to go to Buffalo, and years of mediocrity. This may seem like enough to turn off fans from this franchise, but if you ask me, this team is in the process of a full turn around. Rumors’ of a beautiful new stadium, a general manager who seems dedicated to the process, and a crazy amount of draft picks over the next few years, all give me hope for the future of my Franchise.