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Go Ahead And Start Shoveling Dirt On Alex Meruelo’s Coyotes

TEMPE, ARIZONA - APRIL 17: The Arizona Coyotes mascot, "Howler" holds up a sign reading "thank you fans" following the NHL game against the Edmonton Oilers at Mullett Arena on April 17, 2024 in Tempe, Arizona. Tonight's game likely marks the end of 28 years for the franchise, playing in the NHL's smallest arena, with an anticipated move to Utah with the team's expected sale to the NBA's Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The National Hockey League could use an epic final game tonight, and by epic we mean multiple overtimes and an outcome that either provides the Florida Panthers torrents of mockery for decades to come, or redeems the Panthers, reprieves Calgarians, and earns Connor McDavid the saddest Conn Smythe Trophy presentation in history.

The NHL could also use a big finale to further obscure the disastrous end of hockey in Arizona and the final repudiation of Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo. 

It is nearly unprecedented for a community to rise as one and say, "We prefer no team to your team," and is rarer still for politicians to not only back away from the trough of construction projects but tip the trough over and walk through the remains. Yet it happened Friday when the Arizona State Land Department canceled a land auction scheduled for this coming Thursday that Meruelo needed to revive his comatose franchise. The decision was the latest in a series of groinal slapshots to Meruelo's hope for an NHL-acceptable arena for the currently inactive 'Yotes, after being evicted from the one they had in Glendale and having to play the past two years at Arizona State's mini-facility, and summarized what pols in the valley and most of their constituents have been saying for years now: they love the kachina but they kind of hate Alex. Kind of a lot, actually.

The team itself is saved by its escape to Salt Lake City and new sugar daddy Ryan Smith, the billionaire owner of the Utah Jazz, so eager to have a team that he hasn't found time to name it. This has been discussed in other Defector treatises, but whether the nickname ends up being Yeti, Yeti, or the longshot choice, Yeti, it shows one additional facet of the Coyotes disaster: teams being moved in a hurry and reassembled before the marketing chuckleheads can get up to speed.

The old town, though, is also getting what it wants: no money spent on no arena and no conciliatory gestures toward the guy who wanted it.

The team that currently exists solely as a Twitter account issued a spicy release vaguely threatening legal action under what one can only assume is the divine right of owners to get whatever they want from malleable politicians and gullible taxpayers. The exact terminology was "considering our legal options," which if it doesn’t mean “nothing” means a search for a judge who doesn't mind issuing the odd injunction for snicks and giggles. If one is found, that is still a long way from overcoming the city and state's essential legal position, which can be summed up in one word: Scram.

The mayor of Scottsdale, David Ortega, a strident opponent of the arena plan to the point of threatening not to allow the project to tap water from his city, told the Arizona Republic, “Mr. Meruelo's fantasy hockey proposal was just a smoke screen as he exited after running the franchise under." Another word: Ouch.

Meruelo's deadline for finding a new plot of land that meets all his requirements and having an arena 50 percent completed is New Year's Day 2028, so the Coyotes are not yet officially dead. They are, however, running out of options within the metropolitan area after having been evicted from the west side (Glendale), spurned at the south (Tempe) and now blocked from even trying at the northeast (Scottsdale). This is a level of shunning last seen with the Oakland A's and the even less charismatic John Fisher, and almost never before that.

Gary Bettman has always believed in the Phoenix market despite having almost no evidence to back his hope-powered obstinacy, but even he has to be able to do the math here. He may be considered a silver-tongued auctioneer and has fallen on numerous grenades to keep the Coyotes running against the will of the public at large, but all he's gotten in exchange is a face full of civic shrapnel in defense of the Meruelos.

And now he learns that Meruelo can't even bid on dirt. If that isn't the F-off to end all F-offs, it comes as close as one can come. Of course, nobody thought a week and a half ago that Florida couldn't win the Stanley Cup so anything is possible, but Alex is not only proverbially down 3-0 in games here but losing Game 4 11-0 with seven minutes to play. We don't want to tell you how to bet, but the smart play is to imagine the Coyotes as the new Cleveland Barons— a dead team you'll forget ever existed by the time the Yeti win the Cup in 2027.

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