32 Thoughts: Where will the Coyotes call home after Mullett Arena?

NHLPA executive director Marty Walsh expresses his disappointment about the progress being made with a new arena in Arizona and voices his concerns about where the Coyotes will play next season.

• Will Toronto trade its first-round pick?
• Tanev, Hanifin, Guentzel and a look around the trade market
• The NHL’s new “good” problem with the Skills Competition

On Tuesday night, I took Steph to see Neil deGrasse Tyson. Among the fascinating things we learned: there is a one-in-2,700 chance an asteroid named “Bennu” will hit Earth in September 2182. 

Hopefully by then we’ll know the fate of the Arizona Coyotes

While the Coyotes maintain they are looking at several arena options, they did confirm last week they applied to buy “state trust land” in north Phoenix as a potential site for a new facility. That would create an open auction where owner Alex Meruelo can try to post the highest bid. But there are zero guarantees.

The Arizona State Land Department controls the process. Its Board of Appeals meets Thursday. The agenda is posted online, and according to the clerk, is final. There was nothing indicating Coyotes. (The next meeting is in March.) But I’ve done enough government coverage to know they could discuss it in-camera, away from prying eyes.

Even if the auction is granted, what is the timeline? One source indicated they thought the bidding could be as soon as April and another said July. Again, with no guarantee the team will win.

While NHLPA Executive Director Marty Walsh is throwing fire and brimstone at the Coyotes, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is playing good cop, saying last week, “I’m hopeful and reasonably confident that (Meruelo) is going to do what he says.”

I have a theory. 

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Bettman’s a lawyer, a good one. This seems like Meruelo’s last stand. When it comes to the Coyotes, deadlines have proven to be…flexible. The NHL doesn’t want this ownership to end the season without a legitimate, detailed plan. Whether a sale or relocation or Meruelo says, Wolf of Wall Street style, “I’m not leaving!” it’s going to be complicated. Meruelo’s a fighter, and Bettman knows this could end in the legal octagon.

The commish isn’t going to say or do anything Meruelo can use against him. He’s going to make sure no one can argue the NHL wasn’t anything but 100 per cent supportive even though more and more it looks like the league’s lost faith. While there’s lots of hope Phoenix Suns owner Mat Ishbia is the long-term answer, it’s going to be on his terms and when the team is officially for sale. “Leverage through silence,” as one source said.

Ottawa just sold for $950M, so what is Arizona worth? Meruelo — as he should — would try to recoup losses and get the best possible deal, but what is that? They have no arena and low ticket revenues, although Forbes reported the team is cash-flow positive, which is no small thing. Does he sell directly to a new owner? Or, does he sell to the NHL, which flips it to a new owner in (preferably for the NHL) Arizona or Utah? Or, does it get so bad the league tries the nuclear option and revokes the franchise? Whatever the case, there’s going to be a battle.

It’s tough on the players, staff and families wondering about their futures. Those are the people I feel for. 


1. Very interesting note sent by the NHL on Wednesday, announcing “a comprehensive audit of the hits statistic in every game this season,” and “appropriate adjustments.” (There was also a promise audits will now be done on a nightly basis, to be updated by the next morning.) That led to jokes about teams who inflate these totals, but it was the opposite. Teams were informed that hits per game were adjusted up by almost nine, closer to what we’d seen in previous seasons. What it says is that agents or NHLPA genius Roland Lee, who use these numbers as salary comparables or in arbitration, noticed the drop and pushed for clarity.

2. One trend gaining traction is teams destined to pick later in the first round aren’t married to their picks. Vancouver and Winnipeg already moved them. Sportsnet draft gurus Jason Bukala and Sam Cosentino see a drop, and several organizations agree with them. 

3. One exception may be Toronto. If the Maple Leafs trade this year’s first, they will have one pick in the top two rounds of the next three drafts (a first-rounder in 2026). It’s not impossible they decide to move it, but they definitely prefer the opposite and aren’t interested in moving Easton Cowan, Matthew Knies or Fraser Minten (their most asked-about youth).

One case where I do believe they would have done so is if they had acquired both Chris Tanev and Nikita Zadorov, as they tried before the latter’s move to the Lions Gate Bridge. There’s no doubt in my mind the Maple Leafs want Tanev, but Calgary is holding to see if that first-rounder comes into play. It’s poker, but if Toronto really wanted to do that, it would be done already. We will see. He would help them, and they know it. (Maybe Toronto solves this by trying to trade for both Tanev and Noah Hanifin.) They are looking for another centre, as well. 

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4. I can only imagine how tired Tanev is of this, already. There are a lot of teams interested in him, but it’s a unique market. There are teams who aren’t ready to win this year, but are determined to be a playoff team next year (Ottawa). There are teams who aren’t yet sure if rentals make sense for them (New Jersey). There are teams who like him but find it tricky cap-wise and trade-wise (Boston, Tampa Bay, Toronto, Vancouver). I suspect Dallas lurks, which makes a lot of sense. Undoubtedly, there are others I’m missing. He’s the Taylor Swift of trade deadline coverage. 

5. Other teams believe the Senators are extremely serious about Tanev — if not now, then if he hits the open market in the summer. 

6. Noah Hanifin knows he owes Calgary a decision, and the expectation is it is coming soon.

7. Jake Guentzel was another to check on post All-Star. Nothing really to report, just that there’s no panic. Everyone seems comfortable for now, in no rush.

8. Philadelphia can extend Travis Konecny on July 1, but the Flyers are trying to get the legwork done sooner. You’re going to see a real attempt at this. The prediction is Nick Seeler stays, and Jamie Drysdale’s arrival puts Sean Walker on the move (Edmonton and Tampa Bay are among interested parties). Rasmus Ristolainen’s stock is up, but the contract is tricky.

9. That brings us to Scott Laughton. The first-rounders going for rental centres have GMs thinking. If you’re Pat Verbeek (Adam Henrique), you’re smiling at the market, with several teams looking for middlemen. (The Rangers are looking for two of them. Going to be watching Tyler Johnson, now off injured reserve.) What that’s also done is bring out the managers who have a centre with term. Those include Nic Dowd and Laughton. The latter’s down three minutes a game from last year, and is at his lowest playing time in four seasons. If that’s the future, a move is better for everyone. I would expect teams to call on Boone Jenner, for the same reason. But he’s got a partial no-trade and you can’t see Columbus doing it without a massive return.

10. There was a short explosion around his AHL demotion, but the Blue Jackets made it verrrrrrrry clear they are not moving David Jiricek. They see the potential — and so does everyone else. 

11. By the way, remember that review during the Jan. 27 Columbus-Vancouver game where a penalty was taken from Ian Cole and given to Tyler Myers? At the end of the day, I support getting the call right… and, if anyone deserved a major, it was Myers. But, another GM not involved in the game said he felt Myers should have got a major and Cole a minor, giving the Blue Jackets a two-minute five-on-three and three more minutes of five-on-four. Tough crowd.

12. Washington could hold Dowd, but are looking to move Joel Edmundson. All the best to Evgeny Kuznetsov, back in the Player Assistance Program. His salary is off the team’s cap at this time. 

13. Buffalo’s got a lot of good prospects, a really talented group not yet in the NHL. Over the next few months, it’s very possible some will be used to get what the Sabres need. There’s not room for all of them, and teams always wrestle with when someone outgrows the AHL. I’m very curious to see which young Sabres get a look over the next little while. I also expect Erik Johnson moves. That’s a no-brainer for a contender. 

14. Boston is another team that, like Toronto, will be careful about futures. Even with Charlie Coyle’s surge, the Bruins took a run at Elias Lindholm, but last year’s “all-in” push meant they couldn’t (and wouldn’t) offer anything close to what Vancouver did. The Bruins, I believe, were the team that wanted an extension with Lindholm, too. If he hits the free agent market, he’s a target.

15. Edmonton’s 16-game winning streak ended in an entertaining game, a 3-1 loss to Vegas — a showcase in front of a frenzied Golden Knights crowd and a Super Bowl-fueled media throng. If the Four Nations Faceoff started tomorrow, Adin Hill is Canada’s starter (although Penguins fans feel Tristan Jarry is not getting enough respect). Hill stoned the Oilers. Oilers GM Ken Holland did not want to discuss moves while things were going so well for his team, like it was bad karma. But he will use the rest of this month, as Edmonton’s schedule toughens, to determine where he’s going to add. How Dylan Holloway plays impacts the Oilers’ decisions.

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16. Same for Viktor Arvidsson in Los Angeles. One King is not enjoying all of the slander: “I’m telling you, you are giving up on us way too early.” 

17. DJ Smith — newly hired as Jim Hiller’s assistant in LA — was very much on the radar to coach Canada at the World Championships.  

18. Small thing, but a big thing from Connor McDavid: during our 32 Thoughts podcast interview, talking about goaltending, he mentioned Stuart Skinner, Calvin Pickard… and Jack Campbell. That did not go unnoticed. Campbell was on a heater at AHL Bakersfield a couple of weeks ago, but, as mentioned, the Oilers were in no rush to mess with what worked. It’s a crazy world. A month ago, the idea of Ilya Samsonov leading Toronto seemed as far-fetched as Tracy Chapman showing up at the Grammys. It’s very possible the Oilers will dabble in the goalie market, but you never know if you’re going to need someone again.

19. What Toronto did with Samsonov may become a blueprint. Instead of sending struggling netminders to play AHL games, do the mental re-set before anything else. It was a rocky road for Campbell, although Carolina’s Antti Raanta made it clear getting that action benefitted him.

20. When it comes to goalies, Marc-Andre Fleury will have the biggest impact. He’s earned the right to call his shot; nothing happens without his approval. Fleury initially was unhappy to move from Vegas to Chicago, and needed convincing to go to Minnesota. But the guy eats, breathes and loves hockey, so he adapts upon arrival. This screams Carolina, Colorado or Edmonton, all playoff-bound. But, in some of those situations, he wouldn’t be the starter, so that factors in. Again, it’s his call, and deservedly so.

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21. Others to watch: I get mixed answers on Jacob Markstrom. It’s been mentioned to me several times — he doesn’t enjoy his name being out there, and Calgary is very, very sensitive to that. It’s got to be something the Flames can’t say no to, or a place Markstrom tells them he wants to go — which has not happened. Of course, that sounds like a negotiating ploy, but it’s the truth. Calgary’s preference is to leave him alone. He’s been very good. When that happens, business takes care of itself.

I don’t believe there’s been much talk around Dan Vladar. Elvis Merzlikins’ availability was not a secret even before everything boiled over. The simplest thing would be for him to play like he did in shutting out St. Louis right before the All-Star break. With Anaheim in a rebuild, John Gibson wants meaningful games. Verbeek is willing to accommodate, but it is complex. Verbeek is a tough negotiator, and there are two prices: one for the player and one to retain money. There was a time I thought the Ducks might prefer to move the contract and take what they could — but that’s not the case. Biggest concern: Gibson’s health. If you’re going to make this plunge, he needs to prove he can stay healthy.

Montreal GM Kent Hughes said at the halfway mark he could keep all three of his goalies for the entire season. Hughes has set a price (believed to key on a draft pick), but, like Gibson, that varies depending on retention. (Jake Allen has one more year at $3.85M.) There is now a book on Hughes: while the Canadiens rebuild, he’s content with setting a price and waiting until he gets what he wants. Remember: Allen has a partial no-trade.

22. Total wild-card: Kaapo Kahkonen. An unrestricted free agent, and his underlying numbers were extremely good for much of the season. Several Sharks are more than happy to tell you Kahkonen and MacKenzie Blackwood deserve much better than what they’ve had to deal with. Kahkonen said experience has taught him to “slow down the game. I understand so much more.” Teams definitely noticed. What they worry about is he doesn’t have a resume in high-pressure games. So, he’s a bit of an unknown. 

23. Brock Nelson had a good description of Patrick Roy: “He’s passionate, but not in a military, ‘You do this’ way. It’s more of an, ‘I need you to do this’ way.” Under Roy, Mathew Barzal is up from 19:22 per game (16:24 at even strength) to 23:47 (20:01). Islanders players absolutely thought Barzal was going to win the skills competition at All-Star. 

24. McDavid really set the tone asked of him for All-Star Weekend when he blasted through the final event of the Skills Competition to take the $1M prize. All he needed was to lollygag and finish second, but no sir, that was not going to happen. With a few days to think about it, I thought dropping the event from 12 skaters to 10 might help, but the NHL might have another “good” problem — more players want the opportunity. I heard at least two voiced displeasure at being left out. The Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander reported Sebastian Aho was one, but he wasn’t alone. 

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25. Nikita Kucherov is my podcast white whale, but he’s not interested: “I’m not big on podcasts.” Ah, memories of high school rejection.

26. Sounds like the Four Nations Faceoff plan will be a break from Feb. 10-21, 2025 to hold the event. David Pastrnak wasn’t the only player to register his disappointment about not being included. While league and union officials were sympathetic, they felt it was more important to get the international calendar started. 

27. In the aftermath of Cutter Gauthier’s trade to Anaheim, I can guarantee one thing: NHL teams reached out to their prospects, making sure all is well between them and the organization. Other GMs were asking their staff: “Do we have any reason to believe this could happen to us?”

28. Macklin Celebrini had a hilarious interview after scoring twice to lead Boston University past Boston College 4-3 in the opening round of the Beanpot. The overwhelming favourite to go first overall at The Sphere in June has had at least one better line in his young hockey life. His father, Rick, is in his sixth season as the Golden State Warriors’ director of sports medicine and performance. Members of the organization, including head coach Steve Kerr and defensive wizard Draymond Green, learned about Celebrini’s family. Last year, when Macklin played for the USHL’s Chicago Steel, Green remembered.

“A couple weeks before our game in Chicago, Draymond asked if Macklin would be playing when we were there,” Rick Celebrini said. “When I said yes, he said, ‘I want to go.’” Celebrini rented a van for him, Green, Kerr, some coaches and members of the performance staff. Imagine this group showing up at a rink. “(The Steel) were very supportive,” Celebrini laughed. “We went in the back and had a suite. But people in the stands saw him smiling, started pointing and taking pictures. It was a Saturday night in Chicago. Green usually goes to a comedy club. Kerr played (for the Bulls). There were many other things they could have done.”

Celebrini was incredibly appreciative they came, but there was one problem. “It was a stinker, a terrible game,” he said, a 4-2 loss to the Madison Capitols. “They left early. I told Macklin after the game, ‘Hey, they couldn’t even sit through the game.’ His comment to me was, ‘Yeah, but I sat through some of their bad games in the past.’” Holy smokes, what a quote. I love that.

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29. Did Green say anything positive about Macklin? “He did,” Rick answered. “His presence and physicality. Macklin was fist-pumping at one point, and Draymond loved it. Both him and Steve, despite him having a poor game, said he looked like a player you could tell had a high IQ — processes the game a step ahead.”

Steve Nash is godfather to the Celebrini children, and Rick says all of his children benefit from that. “Seeing the work that goes into it. The detail. The amount of work that goes into success, it’s most impactful to be able to see that first hand. That’s the biggest thing, always non-negotiable. Compete. Put in the work and compete your ass off.” Great advice for us all.

30. On Monday’s massive pod, Jeff and I went through rumours of a “merger” (for lack of a better term) between the NCAA and the CHL, where NCAA coaches are being presented with the idea of offering CHLers eligibility in their league post-juniors. The reaction has been… fascinating and illuminating.

The CHL seems to be very much in favour of it. The NCAA, well, it depends who you talk to. There are some coaches who feel very strongly they are winning the battle against the CHL and see this as an unnecessary concession. There are others who support it, and others simply asking, “Where do we think the best players will end up if this happens?”

Then, there are the lawyers. We are into a new era of NCAA athletics with Name-Image-Likeness and, earlier this week, a ruling that Dartmouth basketball players are school employees, therefore eligible to vote to form a union. For every lawyer, there is one who will argue against them, but I heard from a couple who said that coaches not liking the idea may be forced to yield in this new age.

There would be an enormous ripple effect across minor/junior hockey in both countries — and the NCAA does not move quickly — but it sounds like a vote could be held this spring or summer. Marek reported the current Top Prospect event will be replaced with a two-game series between CHL players and opponents based in the United States, so it’s clear the bigger picture is on everyone’s radar.

31. The first sport I covered at Western was women’s soccer. The second was men’s hockey. This could be very bad for University Hockey in Canada, and I hate that. But I think we’re headed in this direction sooner or later.

32. We all want answers, but must prepare for a long, hard road before any kind of clarity into exactly what happened at the 2018 Team Canada World Junior Team’s championship celebration. London Police didn’t say much at Monday’s media conference, except making it very clear they feel the woman wasn’t given proper treatment by their initial investigators. But we probably won’t see a trial for a couple of years.

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The strong comments from the players’ lawyers — and some of those from Bettman — support what’s been believed for a long time: absent criminal charges, both Hockey Canada and the NHL faced significant legal pushback if their investigations became public. (Hockey Canada’s report remains in the appeal process.) Article 18-A of the CBA gives Bettman power to govern off-ice misconduct, but the NHL will let their contracts expire in June and it’s extremely hard to see any of them in the league until this process is complete — at least. There’s still so much to come, including the likelihood other members of the 2018 team will be subpoenaed to testify at trial. That could be a very big part of the Crown’s case. It’s going to be a painful process before we get the full truth. Be sensitive to those who will find the revelations very hurtful. 

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