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Meruelo made sure Kessel came to Coyotes

First Hispanic NHL owner exerted early influence getting trade done

by Alan Robinson / Correspondent

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Alex Meruelo wasn't owner of the Arizona Coyotes yet, but he knew he wanted Phil Kessel on the team.

"They've done an amazing job the last two years turning this team around so I can't take credit for that," Meruelo said Thursday, three days after completing his purchase of controlling interest in the Coyotes. "But I will say there are a couple of deals that were made, and that I was very instrumental in making sure they got done. 

"I was told that if I made that decision, I'd paid for it, and I'm going to pay for it. But you know, I want to win."


[RELATED: Kessel ready to take leadership role with Coyotes]


Kessel, a forward, was acquired June 29 in a trade that sent forward Alex Galchenyuk to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Four days earlier, Arizona acquired forward Carl Soderberg in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche for defenseman Kevin Connauton.

Meruelo, the first Hispanic owner in the NHL, was approved by the Board of Governors on June 19. Despite his initial activity, the 55-year-old said he won't interfere with CEO Ahron Cohen and general manager John Chayka in the day-to-day running of the Coyotes.

"I'm not here to micromanage them, tell them what to do," Meruelo said. "But I'm a person of high energy. And I'm trying to control myself a lot right now. Because I care. Because I care a lot. I want to win, and I understand we can't win every game."

The Coyotes haven't made the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2011-12. They were one of the most improved teams in the NHL last season, falling four points short of the second wild card from the Western Conference after finishing last in the conference in 2017-18.

"I want to do everything I can to give the resources, the financial resources, and the support to win a Stanley Cup," said Meruelo, who became hooked on hockey after the Los Angeles Kings traded for Wayne Gretzky in 1988.

Video: Johnson on Kessel, Coyotes' need to stay healthy

Meruelo is pledging to keep the Coyotes in the Phoenix metropolitan area despite their recent attendance issues -- they were 29th in the 31-team League last season -- and to seek an arena option that locates them nearer to the city and its eastern suburbs.

"It's difficult because we lose quite a bit of money (playing in western Glendale), our fan base is not so much out here, our corporate sponsors aren't really out here," Meruelo said. "We don't have a long-term lease (at Gila River Arena). All of those are really big challenges that I have to address. But I am committed to making it work. … I want to be part of this state, and that is my sole interest."

Meruelo grew up in Brooklyn as the son of Cuban immigrants and became a billionaire with interests in construction, real estate, gaming, media and pizza. He said Arizona is a perfect fit for him because of his holdings in California and Nevada. 

"He's unique. I think it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with him. I think he's an elite business mind," Cohen said. "I think it allows us to take this thing to the next level. And, again, he's made it very clear, he's not interested in second, he's not interested in fifth, that's not success for him. He's got one goal in mind.

"There's a lot of people that have looked at this team. But he's the one that brings it all together. He's the one with the belief in this team and what it can be."

Meruelo took over controlling interest in the Coyotes from Andrew Barroway, who retained a 5 percent share. He said he knows he'll be closely watched as the first Hispanic owner in the League -- "It's always going to be difficult (being the first), it's never easy" -- but also hopes he'll help grow interest in the Coyotes in a region where more than 40 percent of the population is Hispanic.

"We have the right person now to really connect with that community. And we're going to take steps forward," Cohen said. "And we really hope to grow that relationship."

Photo courtesy: Norm Hall/Arizona Coyotes

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