3 Reasons for Utah to Be Excited About Their New Hockey Club

As sports fans in Utah brush up on their hockey knowledge, here are three reasons why they should be excited about their new NHL team.
Utah Hosts NHL Welcome Party
Utah Hosts NHL Welcome Party / Chris Gardner/GettyImages

Note: Once the Utah NHL team introduces a name and branding, we here at what is currently known as "Howlin' Hockey" will follow suit and undergo our own identity change to reflect the franchise relocation and revamp.

Suffice to say, there is excitement in Utah as the honeymoon phase is underway when it comes to their newly relocated NHL team. When players and coaches formerly of the Arizona Coyotes visited last week to introduce themselves to local fans, 100 youth hockey players greeted them at the airport and thousands more fans packed a sold out Delta Center for a celebration event. Then you have the 20,000-plus $100 season ticket deposits that were placed within days of the move becoming officially approved.

Even with no team name or branding and with about a million steps to be taken between now and the time they hit the ice, there's undeniable excitement for NHL hockey in Utah. As there should be.

While I might be preaching to an already amped up choir, folks in Utah might get a further jolt by reading these three reasons that they absolutely should be excited for the dawn of their new NHL team.

1) Winning May Not Be Far Away

Any Utah fans checking in on how their team fared in Arizona last season would be wise to focus more on the first half of 2023-24 than the second. As the calendar was set to switch over to 2024 this past season, the Coyotes held a 19-14-2 record, good for fourth in the Central Division and possession of the first Western Conference wild card slot.

This strong opening was engineered by a strong young core of talent with whom Utah fans will soon become very familiar. Clayton Keller is just 25, but is already a four-time All-Star coming off of 70 goals over his past two seasons. Logan Cooley, the No. 3 pick of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, just wrapped up a 20-goal rookie campaign. Furthermore, Matias Maccelli, Lawson Crouse, Sean Durzi and Dylan Gunther are all young, skilled players who could be critical components to this roster for years to come (all are signed or under team control for at least next season).

Clayton Keller
Clayton Keller will be the first face of the franchise in Utah. / Chris Gardner/GettyImages

While the latter portion of this past season highlighted how the organization still has a ways to go, there's something here. Internal growth can absolutely be anticipated and the upcoming draft lottery will position the franchise to add another high-level asset to an impressive prospect pool (Utah has a 7.5% chance to land the No. 1 over-all pick). If Josh Doan can carry over the success of his late season NHL debut and if other top prospects can make their way to the big leagues, this could be a club poised for big things over the long-term.

2) Ownership Will Make a Difference

Sports fans in Utah have gotten well-acquainted with new owner Ryan Smith in recent years after spending over $2 billion to purchase the NBA's Utah Jazz, MLS' Real Salt Lake and the NWSL's Utah Royals. But it can't be overstated how much of a change Smith's NHL ownership (for another $1.2 billion) could represent in comparison to the penny-pinching Arizona group anchored by Alex Meruelo.

To be fair, Meruelo followed a long line of Coyotes owners who couldn't justify spending money on an asset that simply wasn't making money. And so, an embarrassing pattern cost-saving continued that saw the organization play out of a 5,000-seat college arena due to land disputes and acquire insured contracts of injured players to meet the salary cap floor while spending minimally on the on-ice product.

Enter Smith. Early signs from the 45-year-old tech billionaire have all been extremely positive, as he is set to implement a bracket-style fan vote on a new team name and reportedly solicited feedback from players on what they were looking for out of ownership during an introductory golf outing. He also understands the importance of carrying momentum out of the honeymoon period, reportedly telling players, "[...] we'll get everyone here in the first year, but it's your job to keep them here."

Gary Bettman, Ryan Smith, Ashley Smith
There is plenty of optimism surrounding Ryan and Ashley Smith and the new Utah ownership group. / Chris Gardner/GettyImages

3) The Team Has a Clean Slate

Unlike the expansion teams in Vegas and Seattle that were afforded the opportunity to build from the ground up (to say nothing of their early success), relocated clubs carry the legacy of their former homes with them - for better or worse.

But while that can mean inheriting the mistakes of the previous iteration of the organization (after all, well run teams typically don't need to be moved), Utah has gotten pretty lucky when it comes to what they're getting. Utah management - which certainly seems as though it will continue to be current GM Bill Armstrong and head coach Andre Tourigny - have a young roster, a bountiful prospect pool and almost all significant future draft picks.

If Smith intends to approach next year's $87.7 million salary cap, the club would have more than $40 million in space to work with. Yes, that includes a roster of just 11 players and a whopping 10 expiring contracts, but it means moving off of three of the organization's four LTIR veterans (Jakub Voracek, Bryan Little and Travis Boyd, with Shea Weber remaining on the books for two more years) and doesn't include a number of roster spots likely to be filled with players on cheap, rookie-scale deals.

This all may not be exciting to fans who would rather focus on hockey than nitty gritty salary cap details, but it all paints a picture of a roster ready to be built up and a team well positioned to be immediately active in trades and free agency in hopes of quickly building a contender.

Anyone in Utah looking 400 miles southwest and expecting the same type of instantaneous success as the Stanley-Cup-Final-in-year-one Vegas Golden Knights enjoyed back in 2018 might be in for a disappointment. That being said, there's plenty of reason to be excited - not just for the presence of a fresh, newly relocated and soon-to-be newly branded franchise to get behind, but for a quality group of players and assets that are poised to keep getting better.