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NHL team moving from Arizona to Salt Lake City will have a name starting with Utah

ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Fans make their way into the Delta Center before a first-round college basketball game between Long Beach State and Arizona in the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City on March 21.
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ASSOCIATED PRESS

Fans make their way into the Delta Center before a first-round college basketball game between Long Beach State and Arizona in the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City on March 21.

The NHL team moving from Arizona to Salt Lake City will be known as Utah, at least initially, until a long-term name is determined.

“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,” new owner Ryan Smith told The Associated Press. “We’re going to be Utah either way. We have the first part of the name. We don’t have the last.”

Smith Entertainment Group, which bought the franchise formerly known as the Coyotes in a deal unanimously approved Thursday by the league’s Board of Governors, has already contracted ad agency Doubleday & Cartwright for rebranding efforts. Former owner Alex Meruelo keeps the Coyotes name and has the chance to reactivate the franchise if he’s able to build an arena.

The short timeline of relocating the club could mean it has a placeholder name for the first season, like the Professional Women’s Hockey League did for year one or Washington’s NFL team had in 2020 and ‘21 before becoming the Commanders.

“It’ll be Utah something, obviously,” Smith said. “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. 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.”

While working on that process, Smith’s first priority is physically moving players and staff to Utah and getting them set up in the state.

“There’s a good roster and a lot of young talent and we’ve got to onboard those people into Smith Entertainment Group and show them what that means and what that’s like,” Smith said. “I think that’s a good opportunity for us and introduce them to the state of Utah and also bring the community together to receive them.”

Then it’ll be “full speed ahead” with the infrastructure, including potential renovations to Delta Center, home of the NBA’s Utah Jazz also owned by SEG, which has 12,000 unobstructed view seats for hockey. The plan is to expand that number to roughly 17,500.

“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. “It’s super fun and challenging, but we’re going to do it.”

It’s also a challenge to make Utah a hockey market, though 17 sheets of ice already in place and a youth hockey program give ownership a head start. Smith plans to build more rinks to make it easier for people of all ages to play the sport.

Former NHL player Ken Sabourin, who played in the minors for the Salt Lake Golden Eagles of the International Hockey League from 1987-91 and then again in ‘92-93, raves about the city but thinks success will be determined by how the team plays.

“If they put a winning product out there, it’s going to help, obviously, and maybe (Smith’s group is) dedicated to do that,” Sabourin said Thursday. “It’s a good hockey market, it’s a good sports market — there’s no doubt about it. I think they have the fans. It’s whether they’ll come out or not. They’ll watch it for sure. It’ll be not a problem on TV. The first year in the building I’m sure it won’t be an issue no matter how good they are.”

Smith, who can skate a little and played mostly roller hockey, isn’t worried about that. He points to the sold out NCAA Tournament men’s basketball games at Delta Center as evidence that fans will fill the building to watch NHL hockey.

“The one thing I do know about Utah is people show up,” he said. “It’s just different here. We’ve got 291 straight sellout games at the Delta Center (for the Jazz). I think every concert that’s come to town has sold out. It’s just what we do. We show up, and I have a lot of faith in the people in Utah.”

That faith was rewarded right away, as Smith said the organization had received 6,000 season-ticket deposits in two hours after the sale was announced.

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