February 26, 2024

NHLPA’s Walsh says Coyotes’ arena limbo ‘not the way to run a business’

NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh believes the Arizona Coyotes should relocate if there isn’t a suitable arena plan in place by the end of the 2023-24 NHL season.

“If there’s no plan in Arizona, I would encourage a move to another location, absolutely,” said Walsh, speaking at NHL All-Star Weekend on Friday. “I think the league feels that Arizona is a good market and I can understand that. The issue I have, and the players have, is how long do you wait to get a home? They’re playing in a college arena and they’re the second tenant in that arena. This is not the way to run a business.”

The Coyotes called Glendale home from 2003 until 2022, when the city council decided not to renew their arena lease. The team is playing its second season at Mullett Arena, a 5,000-seat building on the campus of Arizona State University. It was a temporary fix while owner Alex Meruelo sought to build a $2.1 billion entertainment district in Tempe, on a landfill owned by the city. But that plan was rejected by voters on a special election ballot last May, which sent the team scrambling for alternatives.

When asked whether Coyotes players would support an abrupt relocation after this season, Walsh said that “the players want to play in an NHL arena.”

He also blasted the team for not working with the players’ union since he took over last year.

“I’m extremely disappointed in the ownership of Arizona and the president of Arizona. We have a team in Arizona that doesn’t seem interested in having conversation with the union who represents the players that play on that team,” he said.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that Coyotes’ arena situation “will be addressed in the next few weeks,” as Meruelo “is focused on one piece of property.” Last August, Meruelo executed a letter of intent to purchase a parcel of land in Mesa to potentially build a new sports arena and entertainment district.

“Alex Meruelo told me as recently as last week that he was certain he was going to get this done. I don’t make it a practice of contradicting owners unless I have hard facts to the contrary,” said Bettman on Friday. “I’m both hopeful and reasonably confident that he’s going to do what he says.”

Bettman stressed that the NHL is not in an expansion mode, nor is it interested in relocating a team. That’s despite significant interest from Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith in bringing a team to Salt Lake City, although Bettman characterized that interest as being focused more on expansion than relocation.

“We have no formal expansion process set up. We’re listening to the expressions of interest, and I think it’s fair to say that the Utah expression of interest has been the most aggressive and has carried a lot of energy with it,” said Bettman.

Bettman mentioned the league has had conversations with representatives from Houston, Atlanta, Kansas City and Cincinnati about potential NHL expansion.

Walsh said he hasn’t seen the data on Salt Lake City’s viability as a market, other than that it’s growing as a market. He speculated a team there “could be another Vegas Golden Knights or Seattle Kraken,” citing two recent NHL expansion success stories.

He also didn’t rule out Utah as the next home for the Coyotes, as he again expressed exasperation with their lack of an arena plan.

“The next deadline for me is tomorrow. I mean, it’s right now,” he said.