Move to Utah could turn Coyotes into aggressive pursuers in free agency

FILE - Ryan Smith speaks to reporters during a news conference, Sept. 26, 2022, in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

The Arizona Coyotes haven’t exactly been known for being big off-season spenders, but that could change with a move to Utah.

As discussed during Friday’s edition of 32 Thoughts: The Podcast, the franchise — which could be on the move as early as April 18 — is well-situated to make a splash in free agency.

“The word has been out for some time now that Arizona’s been indicating it’s gonna be aggressive. And now, everybody starts to see why,” Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman explained on the podcast.

Earlier this week, Friedman reported that the NHL is handling negotiations between Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo and Ryan Smith, the Utah-based businessman and owner of the NBA’s Jazz who’s made his intentions to bring the NHL to Salt Lake City well known. Nothing has been completed yet, but things have shifted quickly — it was initially believed that the NHL would wait until the results of a June auction, with Coyotes ownership intending to place a winning bid on a plot of land on which to build the team’s future home in the desert. But that leaves little room for contingency plans should the auction’s outcome not favour Meruelo’s vision.

Should Smith successfully land the franchise, explained Friedman, he’ll be extremely motivated to make Salt Lake City a strong hockey destination.   

“I truly do believe that they will be players in free agency, or for trades,” said Friedman.

“Ryan Smith is not going to bring a team to Utah that’s going to be under-funded and playing with one hand tied behind its back,” he continued. “He’s got a team that’s growing, he’s got a team that’s got a lot of good, young players and picks and prospects, and he’s gonna sell them on, ‘You know what? Everything that you went through for the last few years, you’re not going to be going through that anymore. You’re gonna be taken care of.'”

Look at the club’s cap situation and you can see there’s plenty of room for growth, the team ranking near the top of the league in terms of projected cap space. And looking at the list of players scheduled to hit free agency — one that includes Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Marchessault, Sam Reinhart, and Jake Guentzel, to name a few — things could get interesting.

It’s not just about the potential for making big offers to big-name UFAs, however. Their cap flexibility and deep pool of picks and prospects puts them in prime position for plenty of trade possibilities, too.

“That’s one of the things that someone said to me, was, in the past couple of years, you’re looking at free agency like, ‘I don’t have to compete with those guys, they’re not at our level,’ ” Friedman said of the attitude towards Arizona around the league. “Well, now they’re like, ‘Uh-oh. If [Smith] gets this team, that’s gonna be one more person that we’re all gonna be competing against this summer.’ He’s not coming in here to let it go the way it’s been going.”

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