Coyotes owner adamant he’ll bring NHL back to Arizona

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman joins the Hockey Central to detail why he thought Salt Lake City was appropriate target for a relocation, why Smith Group is a good fit as the owner, and the future of the NHL in Arizona

Alex Meruelo may have lost this version of the Arizona Coyotes, but he’s convinced the team isn’t gone for good.

Appearing on The Burns and Gambo Show on Arizona Sports on the same day the NHL’s board of governors approved the team’s move to Salt Lake City, the Coyotes owner stressed he plans to use the entirety of his five-year window granted to him by the league to ensure there is a Coyotes 2.0 in the state.

Meruelo also repeated several times he remains the owner of the Coyotes, apart from hockey operations, albeit as an inactive team.

“I didn’t just sell off the team, I’m here, I’m fully committed to moving forward with the process of reactivating the team, which begins June 27 when I purchase the land (he hopes to win at a land auction for an arena in Phoenix),” Meruelo said.

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So why did he agree to sell the team in a $1.2-billion deal brokered by the league?

Meruelo, whose team has played in a 4,600-seat college rink the past two years, said it stemmed from a March 6 meeting with commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly.

“(They said) can you look your players in the eyes and tell them when they can expect to have a new arena built,” Meruelo said. “And I looked at them and stared and said ‘No, it’s not fair to the players, their families and hockey operations not knowing how long it would take to build a new arena.'”

Meruelo said Bettman believes in him and in hockey in Arizona.

“He is extremely committed. As far as me, he knows I am the only one who can get this project done,” Meruelo said. “He’s told me before and on a couple of occasions, if it doesn’t work with me, it won’t work with anybody.”

Meruelo will retain the Coyotes’ name, logo and trademark. He also retains ownership of the Tucson Roadrunners, the franchise’s AHL affiliate, and hopes to move them to Mullett Arena, the Coyotes’ temporary home shared with Arizona State University the past two seasons.

Hosts Dave Burns and John Gambadoro pressed Meruelo several times on if he feels bad for the fans. They noted that even if the Coyotes return, the current players will not be part of the team.

“It’s horrible. I apologize,” Meruelo said. “It’s something I tried at every cost to avoid. What I take solace in is understanding that more importantly, it’s the career of these players. To keep them here in a campus facility for another three or four years is not right.”

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The hosts also asked Meruelo why he was not in attendance for the team’s final game on Wednesday.

“I didn’t choose (not to show up. Until Thursday) morning, I was still working on the deal, getting all the logistics and all the paperwork done,” he said. “It was a process that went all the way through this morning. I watched the game on TV. It was gut-wrenching. (There) was just so much enthusiasm and confirmed what I already know, that hockey belongs in the desert. That’s what we plan on doing in the near future.”

Meruelo said a win in the June 27 land auction would be a game-changer for the future of hockey in Arizona.

“From here on out, what you have to understand is that I have not sold the actual team,” he said. “June 27 will be the start of a new beginning for the Coyotes and what we want to do.”

“I also understand believing (an owner requires) actions,” Meruelo added. “It’s not words, it’s actions.”

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