The Arizona Coyotes are a struggling franchise both on and off the ice. Alex Meruelo was approved as the new majority owner of the team back in June 2019. There was a lot of promise, which had NHL commissioner Gary Bettman very confident going forward.
“I think he’s is committed to trying to get a new arena in the right location and making it work,” Bettman said. “He is a person of substantial means, and he is very good, if you look at his career, in turning around businesses and making them successful. I think this is an extraordinarily positive step for the Coyotes and their fans in Arizona.”
Coyotes ownership hit hard by the pandemic
Meruelo, a billionaire that owns many businesses is well known for his Vegas casinos. Both the Grand Sierra Resort and Sahara Las Vegas were impacted hard by the pandemic, as were many other industries. The Coyotes had to furlough much of their staff when the pandemic hit and paused the season back in March.
Evidence of just how hard the Coyotes were hit came when the league decided to take away two draft picks for violating scouting combine policy (2020 2nd, 2021 1st). The violation was for Arizona meeting and conducting tests with prospects prior to teams being allowed. Bettman could have easily issued fines which would have been in the millions, but some NHL insiders claimed the the Coyotes would rather lose the picks than pay the steep fine.
In September, reports surfaced that the Coyotes were past due on payments owed to the Gila River Arena. A place where the Coyotes want out of, as they look to build a new one.
Lately, there seems to be nothing but bad news for the Arizona franchise.
The Return of the Nordiques?
The idea of relocating the Yotes to Quebec isn’t new. It’s been around for a decade and Gary Bettman was hell bent on keeping a team in Arizona. An interview from 2017, had investor Kevin O’Leary of the show Shark Tank recall his failed bid to get involved and move the team.
(Kevin O’Leary): Moving the Phoenix team, the hockey team, out of Phoenix to Quebec City. That was really interesting, until (Bettman) shut it down. And I was willing to be part of that syndicate, it was a really interesting deal. I think…I don’t know if I’m disclosing something out of school, but I think our purchase price was around 300 (million). And we went to the other owners and they said not a chance in hell. – (September 20th, 2017)via BarDown
How bad does Quebec want their Nords back? Back in 2009 the mayor of Quebec City along with former Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut met with the NHL. After the meeting, Bettman said he would consider if the city followed through on building an arena and a team was for sale. It hasn’t happened…yet.
Quebec did build an 18,000+ seat arena called the Videotron Centre which opened in 2015. However, in 2018 Quebec lost out to Seattle with the league citing the need for more Western teams to add balance.
While discouraged, the city and the fans still want their hockey team back. A team fans feel was stolen from them when it moved to Colorado. Of course, the reality was finances as even Marcel Aubut said the market couldn’t keep up with payroll costs. The weakness of the Canadian dollar also played a role in their move and that of the Winnipeg Jets.
Eventually, Winnipeg got their Jets back. Is the time coming for the Nordiques to return home? Alex Meruelo may soon have that answer.