Reports that Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith wants to bring an NHL team to Salt Lake City — and has talked to league brass about it — have been confirmed.

Prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals in Las Vegas on Saturday, league commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly conducted a sort of “State of the League,” fielding various questions from media about the NHL.

One significant line of questioning centered on the status of the Arizona Coyotes and whether they will leave Tempe, sooner or later. (At issue right now is that Arizona is currently playing in a 5,000-seat arena — Mullett Arena — and needs to find and/or create a new venue with much greater capacity.)

Salt Lake City has been a reported destination city for the Coyotes, if they were to leave Arizona, and Daly confirmed that Smith has talked to the NHL about his interest in bringing professional hockey at the highest level to Utah.

“We’ve certainly talked to Ryan Smith, and he has indicated he has an interest in bringing the NHL to Salt Lake City,” Daly said, per The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun.

Daly was quick to add, though, that Salt Lake City isn’t the only city that would be in the running for a relocated NHL team, or even an expansion one. More on that in a bit.

“I think, obviously, what happened in Arizona created this talk of (the) potential need for relocation, and I suppose on some level that’s accurate,” Daly said. “But I don’t think it changed what Ryan Smith had expressed to us, which is an interest in bringing the NHL to Salt Lake.”

Ryan Smith says bringing the NHL to Utah is ‘in motion’
Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith reportedly met with the NHL’s commissioner recently

The league’s preference is for the Coyotes to remain in Tempe, for a variety of reasons.

“It’s a terrific market,” Bettman said, per The Athletic. “There are a lot of sports fans there. It’s a growing market. It’s one of the larger markets in North America. And I think the club and by implication the fans have been in situations that have been unfortunate, and maybe they’ve been (a) little bit a victim of circumstance.

“And so if we can make something work … we’re at the stage now where the league, ownership, our teams are strong. We’re in a better position to resist moving than we were 20 or 30 years ago. We want to make sure we explore all options at this stage of where we are before we consider having to relocate a club, and I’m hopeful we won’t have to.”

There is positive momentum on that front, for fans of NHL hockey in Arizona, that is.

“Obviously there’s some work to be done before we can get a shovel in the ground, but from all the reports I get, everyone is doing what they need to be doing as efficiently as possible,” he said, per Hockey News Today.

If the Coyotes were to leave Arizona, other cities — besides Salt Lake City — mentioned as possible locations included Atlanta and Toronto.

Daly noted that Atlanta is a much different city than it was the previous two times the NHL attempted to have a franchise there, while Bettman explained that Toronto adding a second team (the Maple Leafs already play there) is more speculative than anything else.

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“The discussion takes place in your (media) world more than it does in ours,” Bettman said. “It’s a matter of speculation; it’s a matter of putting things out there. But in terms of the interest, the reality of what’s involved, it’s not something that seems to be resonating the way other markets and other ownership requests are resonating. For whatever reason — or reasons.”

Per LeBrun, Atlanta sounds more and more like a realistic option to become the home of an NHL franchise, probably via an expansion franchise.

“It sure feels like the NHL is going back to Atlanta,” LeBrun writes. “And it feels like expansion, in general, is coming within the next couple of years.”

As for Salt Lake City, LeBrun added, “there’s a realistic option in Salt Lake City potentially waiting.”

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