The arrival of the NHL in Salt Lake City brings a rink full of questions.

Where will the team play? Will there be a new arena downtown? What will be the team’s name, logo and colors? What will downtown Salt Lake City look like?

The National Hockey League’s Board of Governors voted Thursday to approve the sale of the Arizona Coyotes franchise to Ryan and Ashley Smith, founders of Smith Entertainment Group, which owns the Utah Jazz, Real Salt Lake and Utah Royals FC, as well as the Delta Center. The deal reportedly was for $1.2 billion.

“As everyone knows, Utah is a vibrant and thriving state, and we are thrilled to be a part of it,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement.

The relocation also set in motion ambitious, yet-to-be-revealed plans to give downtown Salt Lake City a major makeover. SEG submitted an application to the city earlier this month to create a Capital City Revitalization Zone under legislation the Utah Legislature passed last month. That designation could facilitate redevelopment around the Delta Center as well as other projects in the city center. Salt Lake City denied the Deseret News’ request for the SEG application under Utah’s public records access law, citing “business confidentiality.”

“This announcement is about more than bringing an NHL team to Salt Lake City — it’s a defining moment in our trajectory, becoming a catalyst for a positive vision that integrates community, connection and more possibilities for families, residents and visitors to experience our capital city,” Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said in a statement Thursday. “This is the beginning of a new era that will generate exciting opportunities for our communities, amplify pride and unlock new potential in our downtown core.”

How that will take shape will be determined in the coming months and years. It could include the demolition of some downtown buildings to make way for something new. One thing it won’t include is a new hockey venue.

The Arizona Coyotes are officially coming to Utah

Where will the Utah hockey team play?

Ryan Smith ended speculation about building another arena Thursday, telling the Utah hockey team and the Jazz will share the 32-year-old Delta Center, which was not designed with an ice rink in mind. He said he has talked to Bettman and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver about doing something different.

“We want to actually use our arena and really spend time creating the best dual-sport arena that exists out there, because we want to keep people as close as we possibly can or as vertical as we possibly can to watch both games,” Smith said. “… How do we maintain that while making it really cool and innovative for hockey? And it’s super fun and challenging, but we’re going to do it.”

Smith said the Delta Center has the “tightest bowl” in the NBA.

“It’s an envy of the NBA for basketball. Right now, we’ve got 12,000 perfect seats (for hockey) that kind of come in where the sight lines are beautiful and another 6,000 where we can go have fun with who we bring in and how we do that, because it’s a little more compromised from a viewing standpoint.

“But you know, I was just looking at the plans to be able to get to (about 17,500) on hockey without ruining the slope and having to really, like, extract the bowl using new technology that’s available both from seating and the way that we can turn from basketball to hockey, which is super exciting.”

What Utahns should know about being an Arizona Coyotes fan

Currently, 10 NHL teams, including the neighboring Colorado Avalanche, share an arena with an NBA team.

Mark Conrad, who directs the sports business concentration and is a professor of law and ethics at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business, said he hasn’t seen the Delta Center but it could be difficult to reconfigure the arena for hockey.

“The way seating could be constructed, the way the angles could occur, it may be fitting a bit of a square peg in a round hole,” he said, adding it would probably still be less expensive than building new.

However the Delta Center renovation shakes out, taxpayers could be footing a chunk of the bill.

Creation of the revitalization zone would allow the city to increase sales tax .5% to help fund construction of a new arena or renovate the existing one. The law doesn’t state how much tax revenue would be diverted to the project but would be limited to a maximum dollar amount in a development agreement. Earlier estimates had the tax hike pulling in around $1 billion.

Is Salt Lake City a hockey town?
Teams warm up during an NHL exhibition game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Does the Utah NHL team have a name?

Last week, Smith posed this question on X (formerly Twitter): “If an NHL team were to come to Utah, what should we name it?” The post linked to an online survey. (Smith has not revealed the results.)

Smith told the team will take its time to determine its name, logos and colors. But whatever the name, Smith made clear “Utah” rather than “Salt Lake City” will be emblazoned on the jerseys.

“It will 100 percent be ‘Utah,’ and then it will be ‘Utah Something,’ obviously,” he said. “I don’t think given this timeline that we’re going to have time — or nor should we rush with everything else that’s going on — to go force what that is in the next three months.”

Smith said the NHL team has contracted with Doubleday & Cartwright, an independent creative studio that has worked on brand identity with pro sports teams and companies like Apple and Nike.

“They’ve done so many of these identities,” he said. “They’re the best on the planet. They’re there to go run that process. I’m not going to rush them. Like, it’s really important that we’re not saying, ‘Hey, this has to be ready by the fall, especially when it’s going to be ‘Utah Something.’

“So, we’ll start with ‘Utah’ on the jersey, and we’ll figure out the logo and everything else and what it is that we are. But that’s a one-way door. You get to do it once. And with this timeline, I think both the League feels better and we feel better to just run the process, and then we’ll drop it when we drop it.”

Conrad said he expects the team will be doing “serious trademark searches” once the finalists are picked.

“They don’t want to have a problem like confusion with other teams, which has bedeviled some teams in the past,” he said.

Fans take a photo prior to an NHL exhibition game at Vivint Arena in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Interestingly, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office received applications for the names Utah Hockey Club, Utah HC, Utah Blizzard, Utah Venom and Utah Fury. The applications were filed April 16 by an attorney with the Salt Lake City law firm Dorsey & Whitney for a company incorporated in Delaware called Uyte, LLC. The documents show the trademarks are for a variety of clothing, including shirts jerseys, hats, scarves and pajamas.

What Utahns should know about being an Arizona Coyotes fan

Downtown Salt Lake City makeover

On Tuesday, Salt Lake City Council members were briefed on what the revitalization zone legislation, SB272, does and the city’s role. The council has outlined a timeline for a potential development agreement and sales tax increase. It scheduled a public hearing for May 21, with a July 2 target date to consider approval of an agreement.

“This marks a significant milestone in our city’s ongoing growth and development. As we prepare to welcome the team and its staff, our city’s vision extends beyond the ice rink and our work is far from over. While bringing more top-tier sports entertainment to Utah is thrilling, we remain committed to revitalizing our capital city’s downtown in a way that will enhance the quality of life for Salt Lakers,” the council said in a statement Thursday.

“We envision a downtown that is accessible, inspires connection, and attracts residents and visitors of all kinds to its vibrant urban spaces. We also recognize Japantown’s historical and cultural significance and advocate for its thoughtful integration into this revitalization project, ensuring it remains an integral part of downtown.”

Construction of the Salt Palace in 1969 destroyed the Japanese community that once stretched across 100 South, leaving only a small section of 100 South west of what is now the Salt Palace Convention Center that claims the honorary name Japantown Street. The Salt Lake Buddhist Temple and the Japanese Church of Christ are the last remaining landmarks on the street.

During an International Olympic Committee delegation visit last week — Salt Lake City is the presumptive host of the 2034 Winter Games — Mendenhall pitched projects aimed at attracting more families downtown including “a pedestrianization of this Main Street corridor” that would include a 100 South connection to the Salt Palace Convention Center, “a green loop that encircles this downtown core” to give children a place to play, and bringing technology companies closer to the University of Utah.

Potential new pro sports venues in Utah would come with tax increases

Will the Coyotes embrace Utah?

Coyotes fans gave the team a great sendoff at its last game Wednesday night in Mullett Arena, its temporary home at Arizona State University. But Smith wasn’t able to speak to executives, coaches and players before the deal closed.

“I wish I could be calling everyone every minute, working on it,” he said. “Unfortunately, that’s just not in the cards. … It’s kind of like you’re sitting on the fence watching, and I also I think there’s a season to be played.”

Vision Graphics crews install an NHL banner on the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, April 18, 2024. Jazz owner Ryan Smith bought the Arizona Coyotes and they will relocate to Salt Lake City. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The first priority now is to get set up in Utah and “make sure that they have a great experience,” Smith said.

Conrad noted that there hasn’t been much controversy about the move to Utah, which he said was probably a relief to the NHL, “although commissioner Bettman really didn’t want to leave Phoenix. He invested a lot in it. It’s a big market, and there really was no choice because the arena situation was untenable.”

How many Coyotes staff members, many of whom are Arizona natives or spent a long time there, move to Utah remains to be seen.

“That, I think, will be a very difficult thing for the team. The players and their families will have to be uprooted, too. That’s what makes it very difficult,” Conrad said.

The Downtown Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to building a dynamic and diverse community that is the regional center for culture, commerce and entertainment, says NHL hockey will enhance Salt Lake City’s “vibrant” sports scene and invited Arizona players, coaches and staff to explore the city.

“Downtown’s continuing ascension will be enhanced by the addition of hundreds of thousands of energetic hockey fans during the NHL season and postseason! We look forward to welcoming fans to our bars, restaurants and retail shops,” Dee Brewer, Downtown Alliance executive director, said in a statement. “We recognize and appreciate that the arrival of professional hockey will include more families in the downtown experience. It will foster a new cohort of winter sports athletes. Professional hockey further elevates the experience for downtown visitors, workers and residents.”