LAS VEGAS (AP) — Alex Meruelo was approved as the new majority owner of the Arizona Coyotes during the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting on Wednesday.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman also reaffirmed the league’s belief that the Coyotes need a downtown arena for the long-troubled franchise to have a future in Phoenix.
Andrew Barroway’s sale of a majority stake in the Coyotes to Meruelo won’t be closed until July, but the billionaire entrepreneur is approved to take charge of a team that has had several majority owners in the past two decades, including the NHL itself.
“I think (Meruelo) is committed to trying to get a new arena in the right location and making it work,” Bettman said. “He is a person of substantial means, and he is very good, if you look at his career, in turning around businesses and making them successful. I think this is an extraordinarily positive step for the Coyotes and their fans in Arizona.”
But the years of uncertainty for Coyotes fans are far from over.
Although the franchise couldn’t leave Arizona anytime soon due to NHL rules prohibiting new owners from immediately applying for relocation, Bettman pointedly didn’t rule out the long-term possibility.
“I’d rather not go there, because I’m not going to issue threats,” Bettman said. “(Meruelo) has told us, including in his interview with the executive committee, that he very much likes Arizona. He wants to make it work there, and he’s going to try very hard for that to be the case. Obviously, the club is not viable long-term in Glendale, but hopefully we don’t get to that point.”
Bettman says Meruelo shares the NHL’s belief that the Coyotes must have a new, centrally located arena to replace the 15-year-old building in suburban Glendale currently known as Gila River Arena.
The Coyotes were 29th in attendance in the 31-team league last season, averaging 13,989 fans per game despite icing their most competitive team in several years. Getting out to Glendale on weeknights is a nightmare for most people in the Valley of the Sun, while the team hasn’t helped with its years of tumult and losing records, including its current seven-season playoff drought.
While any relocation bid would still be years off, Houston and Quebec City are among a handful of markets that seem ready and eager for an NHL franchise. The Coyotes also are moving from the Pacific Division to the Central with the addition of the expansion Seattle franchise in 2021.
But the NHL and Meruelo are publicly committed to landing a new arena in Phoenix, the franchise’s home since its relocation from Winnipeg in 1996.
“I think there’s a hope that he can crack that code,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “I think the combination of circumstances have conspired against that club for a long time now. They never seem to hit it at the right time. We’re hoping that circumstances are better, and obviously hope that Mr. Meruelo comes in, and I know he’s motivated about the market, so he maybe makes it work.”
Bettman said the NHL won’t set its salary cap for the upcoming season until the league has further discussions with the players’ union.
The NHL also is considering unspecified rules changes and alterations to its video review policy, but they won’t be announced until the league’s general managers meet in Vancouver on Thursday ahead of the draft.
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