This is the second file in THN Hot Seat, the new NHL off-season series from THN.com columns in which we identify one person in each NHL market facing tremendous pressure in the 2022-23 regular season. The person on the Hot Seat can be an NHL player, coach, or team owner. Today, we’re examining the Arizona coyote.
COYOTES HOT SEAT: ALEX MERUELO, THE LARGEST FRANCHISE OWNER
Why: On and off the ice, the Coyotes have been the worst NHL franchise of the past decade. That’s right, the Buffalo Sabers have missed the playoffs more times than Arizona, the truth is that the Coyotes have only appeared once in a playoff in the last 10 seasons, and in that time, they’ve never won 40 or more games in a season, winning the least From 30 games five times.
If Arizona is on a sound financial footing in this stretch, Meruelo may not be our pick for the Coyotes hot seat this year. Sadly, there has been a constant stream of embarrassing (and even more embarrassing lists) events in Arizona, including coyote ownership missing tax payments and their expulsion from their Glendale yard by politicians. Thus, the organization had no choice but to partner with Arizona State University and play their home games in the 5,000-seat hockey rink that begins in 2022-23 and runs for three seasons.
The NHL and Commissioner Gary Bettman have both tried their best to spin this recent business development as a positive for the team, but it would be extremely naive to suggest playing in front of a much smaller circuit than many of Canada’s top hockey teams – for example, the London Knights play in the Ontario League before Crowds of over 9,000 fans – which is somehow more useful than playing in a standard NHL-sized building. Spinmeisters can call the new arrangement “more intimate” whatever they want. However, the truth is that any major professional league would be blamed if one of its teams had to humiliate in the same way that Arizona State is on the cusp of next season. All of this happened under the ownership umbrella of Meruelo, which took majority ownership of the team in July of 2019.
Meanwhile, Meruelo’s management team with Coyotes, led by GM Bill Armstrong, will de-ice another brutal on-ice roster in 2022-23. Arizona is widely seen as the NHL’s elephant cemetery, where bad decades die. They tried many youth movements, and none of them succeeded. They currently have over $23 million in the salary cap space, with contractual millstones including the contracts of forwards Andrew Ladd ($5.5 million a season) and Zach Cassian ($3.2 million a year). If the NHL did not have a mandatory payroll cap, the Coyotes are widely believed to have lowered their salary cap setting further.
Meruelo is a billionaire who also owns casinos, banks, and media outlets. But it’s quite clear that he can’t turn a lemonade into lemonade. Others before him have tried and failed, and this can only be blamed on the lack of fan interest. If Arizona had been so competitive at a distance in the past decade, fans might have turned up in greater numbers.
But that is not what happened. Coyotes have been mismanaged over and over, and there is no light at the end of the tunnel. They will be in dire straits again this season, Meruelo will lose a significant amount of money, and when they fail to sell a 5,000 seat circuit, they will be a huge embarrassment to the league. Meruelo may be a shrewd businessman, but as a sports team owner, he’s under huge threat this year.