Jazz owner Ryan Smith reveals plan to bring NHL team to Utah

Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith, right, hugs Utah Jazz guard Jordan Clarkson before the start of their NBA basketball game against the Sacramento Kings Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
Utah Jazz owner Ryan Smith says he and the Smith Entertainment Group can bring an NHL team to Utah immediately. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Ryan Smith has made his affection for the National Hockey League official.

The owner of the Utah Jazz and CEO of its ownership group, Smith Entertainment Group, wants to bring professional hockey to Utah, and he's prepared to do so immediately.

“SEG envisions a near future where the NHL will thrive in Utah, and we are 100% focused on making this happen as soon as possible,” Smith said in a statement. “We are passionate about sports and entertainment in the state and are committed to providing premium sports and entertainment experiences for the people of Utah and visitors from around the world.

"We are ready to welcome the NHL and are confident that the time and attention being spent by all parties will bring one of the most exciting and dynamic leagues in the world to our community on a permanent basis.”

The belle of the ball responded in kind to Smith's serious, and public, proclamation.

"During conversations over the course of the past two years, we have been impressed by Ryan and Ashley Smith's commitment to their community and their passion and vision for Utah, not only as a hockey market but as a preeminent sports and entertainment destination," the NHL said in a statement. "Utah is a promising market, and we look forward to continuing our discussions."

Smith, who bought the Jazz in 2020, has been putting his bid in for hockey since 2021. When the Pittsburgh Penguins were for sale, Smith was an interested bidder, SportsNet reported. Since 2018, the Jazz's Delta Center has hosted five NHL exhibition games, and Smith said the NHL team can share the arena until a separate venue can be constructed.

But Smith put his efforts to woo the NHL into overdrive, when he had dinner with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman last March. After that, Smith was anything but shy about delivering hockey to Utah, and during his statement, laid out his vision for why the state deserves serious consideration.

Salt Lake City is in contention for the 2034 Olympics, hosted the 2002 Olympics, is home to the ECHL's Utah Grizzlies, has an available workforce, storied fan bases and a stout economy.

“With the Olympic bid underway, our long-standing reputation as one of the greatest winter sports capitals in the world, and with the proven leadership of Ryan and Ashley Smith and SEG in our community, I am extremely optimistic about the future of Utah,” Utah Gov. Spencer Cox said in Smith's statement.

Utah also has timing on its side. A 10-hour drive away, the Arizona Coyotes have questions surrounding their future viability in the market. The Coyotes are currently playing home games at Arizona State's 5,000-seat Mullett Arena. They are in their second season playing in Tempe and an arena vote in 2023 failed.

Arizona has continued to receive support from Bettman, though, so there's no guarantee of them relocating. In June, during the Stanley Cup, deputy commissioner Bill Daly explained that expansion isn't a priority item for the NHL's leadership at this time, either.

That, however, hasn't stopped the creation of a potential NHL arena in Atlanta or Bettman identifying Quebec City and Houston as possible expansion cities.

So Smith remains optimistic and on Wednesday, made the first official move.

"There is so much momentum happening at the state level around global sports and sports infrastructure," Smith said. "While Delta Center is ready to serve as an interim solution for an NHL team, Utah will need a new arena designed for professional and Olympic hockey."