Another path to hockey in Houston

If not expansion, then relocation.

The Arizona Coyotes have taken yet another blow in their hopes of finding a long-term home in the Phoenix area.

As a result, speculation has renewed about whether the desert’s potential loss could become Houston’s long-awaited path to the NHL.

While the results are still unofficial, a Tuesday referendum for a Tempe entertainment district that would’ve included a new arena for the Coyotes appears to be headed to a resounding defeat in the Phoenix suburb.

That had hockey fans and media speculating on the next destination for the Coyotes, who’ve had relocation rumors swirl around the franchise for the better part of two-plus decades.

While a move doesn’t appear to be immediate — NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN on Wednesday that he didn’t envision the team not playing in Arizona next season — staying at Arizona State’s Mullett Arena with its league-low capacity of 4,600 is a highly unlikely long-term proposition. The Coyotes moved there this season after playing from 2003-22 in the far-flung suburb of Glendale.

Enter Houston, the largest market in the country without an NHL team, making it a popular (and logical) candidate to get an NHL team and the subject of perpetual speculation. While NHL power brokers like Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, the chairman of the league’s board of governors, have advocated for Houston before and the city has a hockey-ready arena in Toyota Center, there are some obstacles to bringing a team here.

First, events in the arena are controlled by the Rockets. When owner Tilman Fertitta bought the NBA franchise in October 2017, he said “I would put an NHL team here tomorrow” as its owner or as a co-tenant if the situation worked to his liking. However, in the years since, Fertitta has said little publicly about the NHL.

It appears price is the big sticking point according to Elliotte Friedman, a hockey insider for Canadian cable network Sportsnet.

“The one thing there is that Houston owner, when they met with him about the NHL, it wasn’t at a number that the NHL liked,” Friedman said Wednesday on his “32 Thoughts” podcast with co-host Jeff Marek.

“I don’t know if that’s changed or how it would go, but that was the one thing that I know that they were concerned about. … At a time when Ottawa’s story is incredible because of the kind of interest that’s in the team and the passion that seems to be around owning the team, you want that kind of passion around your ownership group. They didn’t sense it from Houston.”

As noted recently, expansion is not on the table at this time, so if Houston is going to get an NHL team, it would have to be an existing one looking for a new place. Even if the Coyotes did move, there’s no guarantee they’d come to Houston – multiple other cities, including two that used to house NHL franchises, are also in the running. It would be at least a year before anything happens, so much can change. But for now at least, there’s still a chance. The Press has more.

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