Coyotes fans bid team emotional farewell as franchise preps for move to Salt Lake City

The NHL Board of Governors is expected to approve the sale to Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith on Thursday.

The NHL Board of Governors is expected to approve the sale to Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith on Thursday. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
The NHL Board of Governors is expected to approve the sale to Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith on Thursday. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

There were signs, cheers, tears, a "Salt Lake sucks" chant and one last Whiteout inside Mullett Arena on Wednesday night as the Arizona Coyotes played their final game ahead of the franchise's expected relocation to Utah.

As the buzzer sounded following the Coyotes' 5-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers, tears were flowing as fans said goodbye to the team that has called Arizona home since 1996.

It's been a long road to resolution for the Coyotes situation. There has been bankruptcy, the NHL taking control of the franchise, a threat to move to Hamilton, Ontario, several ownership groups, and a fight for a new arena that's gone on for over a decade.

Through all that, there has been a loyal fanbase, hoping a resolution would mean a permanent home in Arizona, not the constant reminder that the team could move elsewhere. In the end, time ran out and the team will be playing in Salt Lake City, Utah, next season.

Current Coyotes' owner Alex Meruelo was not in attendance Wednesday night.

Wednesday night at the 5,000-seat Mullet Arena, the game was part funeral, part celebration.

“It was a privilege,” said Coyotes head coach André Tourigny, who was hired in 2021. “It was my first chance as a head coach in the NHL and I think I’ve been fortunate to start in such a beautiful city, such a beautiful Valley. My wife really loved it. We’re privileged to be here.

“I for sure will miss it. … What do you not like about the Valley? If there’s a paradise, it’s near here. I don’t know where it is, but it’s not far from here.”

There were many former players in attendance for the final game, including franchise legend Shane Doan, who played all 21 seasons of his NHL career with the franchise — including his rookie year with the Winnipeg Jets — and whose son, Josh, currently plays for the team.

“You’re sad, obviously,” said Doan, who was reunited with his retired jersey banner during the game that was left behind at Gila River Arena before the team began playing at Mullett Arena. “It’s emotional because you’re in a moment where you’re grieving a little bit, and the fact that you love something a lot. It’s something that everyone cared about.

“But this is a celebration today. Tonight you get to say hi, talk to everybody and be around a whole bunch of people that I’m really close with. They all care about each other. Hockey is more than just a sport; it’s the relationships, it’s the fans, it’s the people that worked here for their whole careers. It’s the security people. It’s the ticket people. It’s everybody.

“It’s a small, tight group here so that makes it tough.”

Following the game, longtime Coyotes broadcaster Todd Walsh shared his memories of being around the franchise from the very beginning.

On Thursday, the NHL Board of Governors is expected to approve the $1.2 billion sale of the Coyotes to Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, who plans to move the team to Salt Lake City for the 2024-25 season.

It was in 1996 the Coyotes brought NHL hockey to Arizona after the franchise relocated from Winnipeg. Over 28 years, they helped grow the sport in the region and produced a number of players, including Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews.

But ultimately, issues in cementing a new arena forced the end of this version of the team. There is a chance, however, that the Coyotes could be resurrected.

As part of the sale agreement, if Meruelo can secure a new arena in Arizona within five years he can pay back the $1.2 billion and will be awarded an expansion franchise.