The fallout from the Coyotes relocation (and yes, how it affects the Maple Leafs)

Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
13 days ago
To say that the Coyotes relocation has been a long time coming is an understatement. And while as a Jets 1.0 fan growing up, and a resident of Connecticut at the time the Whalers relocated, I’d like to believe I know what hockey fans in Arizona are going through. It’s not fun but at the same time closing out what feels like a 20-year saga of bankruptcies and arena disputes seems like a good idea.
The NHL moving on from the Coyotes changes the landscape of the league in a number of ways. I don’t believe we’ll see any divisional realignment. The Western Conference would be just as wonky if it was reimagined as it with the current format and while finding ways to ease the travel schedule has benefits, from a TV deal perspective the limting the number of time zones format the NHL is presently striving for also makes sense.
So where do the changes come from, the most immediate one will be the changing landscape of having a new owner who is going to want to fill his arena and sell as much merchandise as possible. In some ways the relocation is better than an expansion situation because most expansion teams don’t wind up with someone like Clayton Keller or a top rookie like Logan Cooley that immediately sell some jerseys. With the emergence of Connor Ingram breakout talent in net, the Utah Whatevers are off to a good start but with a ton of cap space and a ton of draft picks, there is a huge potential to make a splash in free agency and in the trade market leading up to the draft.
This is the first area where we can see some potential impacts on the Maple Leafs. Utah is going to have around $40M+ to spend this summer if they are looking to become a salary cap team. Even more when you factor in that they’ll easily move Shea Weber’s contract from the IR to the LTIR and gain another $7M. They will be spenders. From a Leafs perspective this is a team that has the potential to be outbidding the Leafs on their pending free agents like Tyler Bertuzzi or Max Domi (although I’m not sure either are signing up too quickly to live in Salt Lake City), but Utah also has the potential to be higher bidders than the Leafs on the number of quality defensive free agents that could hit the free agent market this summer.
With the salary cap going up it was already going to be a more competitive market, but now replacing the Coyotes who would have been at the cap floor with a team that will potentially be spending every cent they can, it will be hard to find a deal in free agency.
The positive spin on things here is that Utah might not be destination #1 for a lot of free agents and they might have to go the trade route. Not that the Leafs have a lot to sell but with an abundance of draft picks in that organization and the Leafs being very much on the fence about a player like Nick Robertson, or potentially wanting to make some cap room via moves around Kampf, Jarnkrok, Reaves, etc. to create more flexibility (some NTC issues apply) the team in Utah is an interesting one to keep an eye on.
The other big impact that comes from the move is that at least in the short term it is a safe bet that Utah will be a profitable team in the league. There’s going to be increased merchandise sales, the league will be going from 5,000 people in attendance per night to likely 18,000 and in a gate driven league that utilizes revenue sharing for teams like the Coyotes, the Utah club will have an impact on league economics. Where that interests the rest of us is that it likely means the salary cap will continue to aggressively ascend.
The impact to the Leafs there is that retaining Mitch Marner starts to seem like a no-brainer. The Leafs will be entering a situation where they can build around their core a bit more anyway and moving on from a top talent in the league will be even more unnecessary that it is right now. There might be some penny pinching this summer, but the Leafs are on the cusp of a league where the salary cap doesn’t matter as much and that has been the dream for the Maple Leafs for a long time.
The relocation also brings an end to the Auston Matthews wants to play in Arizona era. Sure the window of opportunity for the NHL to expand back into Arizona coincides with Auston Matthews hitting free agency, but the odds of the current Coyotes ownership getting land for an arena, having it built, and getting their ducks in a row for expansion are low.
While the Coyotes have been important to the Leafs in that their existence has led to both Matthews and Knies taking up hockey, the temporary end of the Coyotes era is undoubtedly positive for the NHL and likely for the Leafs as part of that.

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