This past weekend, it was confirmed that Arizona State University had been in contact with the Arizona Coyotes about playing at the Sun Devils’ new hockey arena, which is set to open in fall 2022. Their temporary home seats around 5,000 people, which would be the smallest capacity in the National Hockey League by approximately 10,000 fans.
This new chapter makes Arizona’s venue woes much worse than they already are. Two months ago, the Coyotes nearly lost their current home, Gila River Arena in Glendale, earlier than expected due to financial difficulties. That issue has since been resolved, but the conflict is far from over, as the Coyotes’ lease agreement ends on June 30.
The team is considering a new arena — it’s like the return of the Kachina logos, outstanding — but if that falls through, the Coyotes may have no choice but to relocate. The three best current options are Quebec City, Quebec, Canada; Houston, Texas, and Hartford, Connecticut.
Quebec City hasn’t had an NHL team since 1996 when the Nordiques moved to Denver, Colorado, to become the Avalanche. The city of Quebec has built an 18,000-seat arena — the Videotron Centre — in the hopes of acquiring an NHL team sometime soon. Instead, all they’ve had so far are the Quebec Remparts of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. In the future, the NHL should consider this market given potential rivalries with the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators.
Houston would provide the Coyotes with numerous advantages. It’s the fourth-most populated city in the country, a heavy sports town and the Toyota Center has not hosted a professional hockey team since 2013 when the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League left. Houston is a great place to grow the league down south and give the Dallas Stars another competitive rival within the Central Division.
Despite these great advantages, let me state my case for Hartford.
The Hartford Whalers were promoted from the World Hockey Association in 1979 and spent 18 seasons in the NHL before relocating to Raleigh, North Carolina and becoming the Carolina Hurricanes.
In the 25 years since, the Whalers have been replaced by an AHL team named the Hartford Wolf Pack, the affiliate of the New York Rangers who won a Calder Cup in 2000. That team rebranded as the Connecticut Whale in 2010 but reverted to the Wolf Pack four seasons later.
Hartford’s been a city of denial for the past 20 years. It nearly had Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots playing right alongside the Connecticut River before Robert Kraft rejected that option and turned Foxboro into his metropolis. The University of Connecticut men’s hockey team, an eight-year resident of the XL Center, will be moving back to Storrs when the new ice arena is completed.
The Arizona Coyotes could keep their land animal moniker and rename themselves the Hartford Coyotes since Connecticut has an abundant coyote population. It could be a nice twist to Connecticut’s hockey history, but as per NHL relocation traditions, the Coyotes would honor the past and rename themselves the Hartford Whalers.
This classic team name alone would draw masses of fans. The XL Center can fit over 15,000 spectators, and bringing an NHL team back to Connecticut would fill every single one of those seats. It’s an amazing facility, though it may need to undergo renovations to provide the ultimate modern-day fan experience. The Whalers would inspire the next generation of Connecticut hockey fans watching from the crowd.
In addition to reviving the local economy, Hartford’s geographic location would benefit the team in more ways than one. In the hot deserts of Arizona, the Coyotes’ closest rivals are the Vegas Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks. Some of those haven’t even been proper rivalries — just other teams dominating the Coyotes. In Hartford, a classic northeast rivalry with the Boston Bruins would return, which originally began when the Bruins didn’t want the Whalers in the NHL. At the same time, rivalries with the New York metro teams and the Buffalo Sabres would be reignited.
The Whalers produced several Hall of Fame players in their relatively short tenure. Whether it was Gordie Howe, Ron Francis, Chris Pronger or Brendan Shanahan, the Whalers consistently boasted elite talent. Imagine someone approaching the twilight of their career, like Phil Kessel (a current Coyote) or Patrick Kane (a future Hall of Famer), donning the green and white and lighting the lamp. Both attendance and revenue streams would be unimaginably high.
The Whalers’ expansion season could also revisit its vintage threads. Despite modernized styles of play, the team could pay homage to its history by bringing back the classic sweaters from the ‘90s, graphics from the ‘80s and more for events such as a retro night.
Like the Whalers of the early ‘80s, the team would undergo an intense rebuild before being considered playoff contenders. Since the Arizona Coyotes currently sit at the bottom of the Western Conference (10-29-4, 24 points), if they played in the Eastern Conference, it would be just as bad. The fans would need to be patient with the rebuild, but the long-term results would lead to community-wide benefits.
Currently, the Coyotes do not plan to relocate, but plans are always subject to change (see the recent news regarding Tom Brady’s retirement). Even if the Coyotes don’t move to Hartford, or anywhere at all, Hartford should get another NHL team within the next few seasons, whether by expansion or relocation. The city deserves it.