NHL Team Names

I had fun yesterday writing about stupid sports team names, so I’m going to do one more, this time for the NHL. Of course ice hockey requires somewhat different traits or attributes in order to be effective: Power, speed, skating, intimidation, toughness, balance, grace and so forth. But ice hockey also has another element that teams often try to capitalize on with their name which is the “ice” element. Being that it sort of separates the sport from others (like field hockey, lacrosse or even soccer, all of which have similar rules and comparable game mechanics but lack the ice and skating), I’ll give bonus points to team names that effectively incorporate the concept into their monikers.

Good Names

  • New York Rangers – An acceptable name for a team for the same basic reasons as discussed in the baseball dissection: Protection, strength, courage, etc. Why again with the red, white and blue I’m not sure, but colors aren’t the point here, the name is so it gets a pass.
  • Philadelphia Flyers – The name flyers, I presume, means “one who flies.” It conveys motion and speed which works for a hockey team.
  • Pittsburgh Penguins – This one is kind of questionable because I don’t know that penguins on ice are very graceful or fast… from what I’ve seen in nature shows they’re kind of clumsy and waddling. But penguins do slide on their bellies pretty smoothly and they swim like crazy, plus they have that ice connection that just works for a hockey team so I’ll let it (ahem) slide.
  • Boston Bruins – A bruin is basically another name for a brown bear so the team is essentially the Boston Bears. As has been established with the football team, bears are big, strong, imposing and at times quite cunning so it works, plus the alliteration angle is a nice touch.
  • Buffalo Sabres – I almost demoted this name because it annoys me that the team is the “Sabres” and yet they spend most of their time with logos and what not acting like they think their name is the “Buffaloes” since they’re always having buffalo imagery on their uniforms. One of these days maybe a team will play in Buffalo that just calls themselves the Buffalo Buffaloes and get it over with. Still, Sabres is a solid name and even manages to evoke some sense of hockey since the metal rail on a pair of ice skates is called the blade so I can’t fault them for stupid marketing. And even if it makes no sense, buffaloes are pretty decent mascots. (As a side note, this page suggests that the original founders of the team chose Sabres because they specifically wanted to avoid the common Buffalo/bison tie-in, so there’s some irony for you).
  • Carolina Hurricanes – Born from the relocated Hartford Whalers, they are located in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina which certainly sees hurricanes from time to time, so it has a local connection. Hurricanes are powerful storms that can bowl over anything in their path, so as a team name I’d say it’s pretty suitable for hockey or most any other sport I can think of.
  • Florida Panthers – As has been mentioned numerous times in these discussions, powerful carnivores of the animal kingdom are usually good team names. Panthers may not have any remote geographic link to Florida, but they certainly make for a quality team name.
  • Tampa Bay Lightning – According to the MSU page, Tampa Bay is the lightning capital of the world. Wikipedia disputes this and cites this article as evidence that Singapore actually has the most occurrences of lighting strikes per year. Wikipedia does however mention this tidbit: “The United States is home to ‘Lightning Alley,’ a group of states in the American Southeast that collectively see more lightning strikes per year than any other place in the US. The most notable state in Lightning Alley is Florida.” So let’s assume the name is locally appropriate, Lightning in an of itself isn’t such a bad name for a team, being intense, powerful and striking suddenly, without warning. That works for a hockey team so it’s a solid name all around.
  • Nashville Predators – Even if you dispense with the specifics, the general term for all creatures on top of their section of the food chain works quite well as a team name, especially in the NHL.
  • Colorado Avalanche – Originally the Quebec Nordiques (I won’t even bother with that one), they relocated to Denver and named themselves the Avalanche. While the MLB team in the same area went with “Rockies” to questionable effect, Avalanche is a nearly perfect name for an ice hockey team. Not only is it somewhat locally specific (again with the mountains, although I can’t find any specific data about how many avalanches really occur in Colorado on average) but it has the ice connection and an avalanche is certainly an intimidating, powerful force of nature that can absolutely bury you if you get in its path. Sounds fitting to me, even if the team doesn’t always live up to the name.
  • Dallas Stars – Considering that the original team name was the Minnesota North Stars and that Texas is the Lone Star State, it’s one of the best relocation name adjustments I can think of. Not only that but a star, in sports, is generally a predominant or exceptionally talented player so it certainly works to classify the whole team that way right in the name.
  • Los Angeles Kings – Unlike the MLB’s Royals, the LA team makes this work by being specific enough with their royalty to give the impression of power, control and to a certain extent victory. It’s not the best name in this section, but it works well enough.
  • Phoenix Coyotes – Locally specific (Arizona is commonly associated with desert areas and coyotes are likewise associated with the desert even though their habitats are generally much more varied) and a predatory animal at least when in the wild (coyotes are actually very adaptable omnivores who are usually scavengers in urban areas), despite some misconceptions about the animal, the general gist is on track and it works passably.
  • San Jose Sharks – The ice connection is tenuous at best (water/ice) so let’s ignore that, but there are plenty of sharks in the Pacific Ocean and sharks themselves are almost exclusively thought of as sly, dangerous, merciless predators. Local connection and effective imagery equals good name.

Marginal Names

  • New Jersey Devils – Similar to the MLB Angels and Padres or the NFL Saints, using theological concepts as team names strikes me as curious. Identifying yourself with the incarnation of evil seems less than ideal as well. But I suppose a “devil” would be frightening, intimidating and potentially powerful so it’s not a total loss but this one rides the line between marginal and outright bad because, really, does anyone want to root for a devil? Actually, the MSU page says the name comes from a folk legend about a sasquatch-like beast called the “Jersey Devil” thought to roam the Garden State’s Pine Barrens. Still, they use the iconic barbed tail and horns commonly associated with a more hades-based interpretation of the name so the origin may be true, but it has been superseded by marketing or common misinterpretation.
  • Atlanta Thrashers – Originally I thought the name was a very short-sighted use of a not-particularly-popular slang term which usually refers to a beating or an intense action of some kind (“Did you see Muhammad Ali thrash Foeman?”) but in fact the name is a reference to the Georgia state bird, the Brown Thrasher. Birds work pretty good as team names in some cases, but in this case the Brown Thrasher is a shy, rarely-seen bird who mostly hunts for grubs and seeds in piles of dry leaves on the ground. Brown Thrashers are mostly known for their singing which is considered to be quite beautiful, but quality singing voices isn’t much of a trait in hockey. Still, I’ll give them enough slack for locale-specific naming and the ambiguity of the name to keep them out of the Bad Names category.
  • Chicago Blackhawks – The MSU page says:

    Original owner Frederic McLaughlin named the team in honor of the Black Hawk Battalion he served with in WWI. The unit was named after a Chief Black Hawk. The name was merged to ‘Blackhawks’ several years ago.

    Blackhawks certainly sounds like it would be a good name, and the origin sounds pretty inspired, in truth it doesn’t really work since Chief Black Hawk, while a regional historical figure, fought against the United States in the War of 1812 and the subsequent Black Hawk War—which resulted from his refusal to leave his native lands—left most of his men dead and found him taken captive. Still, he was a more or less heroic figure for Native Americans but the use of his anglicized name as a sports team is a bit questionable. While the Blackhawks, as Wikipedia points out, have managed to skirt most of the controversy surrounding Native American-themed sports teams, their logo marks the Indian angle clearly; why couldn’t the logo be of a (literally) black hawk? Hawks would make for a good sports icon and the ambiguity of the name makes it perfectly acceptable to make this transition. Unlike other teams like the Redskins or Indians who would need to manufacture a whole new identity behind a whole new name, the Blackhawks could remain constant but lose any hint of offensiveness. Their lack of willingness to do so (probably based on some moronic sense of tradition) automatically drops them to marginal.

  • Calgary Flames – So originally it was the Atlanta Flames, so named from the fire set by General Sherman that burned Atlanta during the Civil War. Eventually the team moved to Calgary and kept the name. Now, “flames” as an element of fire can be sort of intimidating or at least dangerous but flames and ice hockey… well, let’s just say if you can abstract the team concept to a bunch of individual balls of flame trying to skate around the ice, you can imagine that they’d have a hard time winning very often what with all the melted ice which would likely extinguish any fireballs. So not a downright terrible name, but pretty dumb. MSU says the name is supposed to refer to Alberta’s petroleum industry now that they’ve relocated but there is but the thinnest of threads that can possibly link petroleum to fire (except that petroleum is a fairly decent fuel for flames, which is like saying my team is going to be the San Jose Rockets due to all the technology industries in the area), so no dice.
  • Vancouver Canucks – The MSU site says that they got their name from a Canadian folk hero who was supposedly a great logger and in his spare time played hockey named Johnny Canuck. I guess he was sort of an anti-Uncle Sam. The name is weird because it’s perfectly acceptable for Canadians to refer to themselves as Canucks. However, if used by a non-Canadian it can be seen as derogatory, almost like an ethnic slur. But in general I guess it’s like the New York Yankees which means it isn’t great but it just manages to not be so bad as to land in the Crummy category. What almost puts it over the top is the ridiculous logo they sport these days which is like… I don’t know, some sort of deformed seal being broken in half? Whatever it is, it’s stupid so it’s a good thing we’re judging team names and not logos.

Crummy Names

  • New York Islanders – Ha. Ha. Get it? New York is a bunch of islands. So they’re Islanders. Do you get it? Yeah, me neither.
  • Montreal Canadiens – This name is dumb like the Yankees only more so… kind of like the Houston Texans. The official name is “Le Club de Hockey Canadien” which translates literally into something like “The Canadian Hockey Team” which is just as stupid as the Mets only in French which makes even more annoying. Plus the myriad nicknames fans have come up with are annoying as well. I get that you are limited with your wit when your team name is Canadian Hockey Team but the Habs? It’s short for another French nickname, Les Habitants which was used sort of similarly by early French immigrants to the way early US immigrants used “Settlers” or “Pilgrims.” Originally the team only had players who were French-Canadians, but as anyone might have guessed, that is no longer the case. Regardless, it’s just a mess of a name and so it gets the big thumbs down.
  • Ottawa Senators – I can think of few things that strike fear in the heart less than elected governmental officials. Okay wait, I take that back. But generally speaking, a “Senator” does not evoke imposing visions of anything that might be beneficial in a hockey game, unless red tape suddenly becomes a new slang term for some kind of wicked hockey play. That they were named after an old school team is no excuse, old team names were often idiotic (see yesterday’s post regarding the Pittsburgh Pirates originally being known as the “Innocents”).
  • Toronto Maple Leafs – Okay, I see where they were going here. Maple leaves are region-specific, they’re a national symbol and they help clearly identify the team as Canadian. Fine. But for one thing, it’s spelled wrong. The plural of “Leaf” is “Leaves,” not “Leafs,” so deduct points there. Also, what’s so special in hockey terms about a leaf? Oh yeah, now I remember: Nothing. The MSU site says this about the team name:

    Two possible reasons: (1) Then owner Conn Smythe drew inspiration from an old Toronto team called the East Maple Leaves; (2) when Conn Smythe bought the Toronto St. Patricks, his first act was to rename the team after the Maple Leaf Regiment of the First World War, as well as for the maple leaf on the Canadian flag. Originally, the team was known as the Arenas, then renamed St. Patricks, supposedly to attract the Irish.

    Interesting, but being named after an army regiment only works if the army regiment had an imposing name to begin with. Which they didn’t.

  • Washington Capitals – See, Washington is the capital of the US, right? So they’re Capitals. Except a “Capital” doesn’t apply to a person or a team and a city or town that is the official seat of government has no connotations that are useful in hockey whatsoever. Possibly even worse than Senators in terms of team names.
  • Columbus Blue Jackets – Read this account of the Blue Jackets’ team name origin and I challenge you to come up with a rational reason why any of that should have resulted in such an insipid name as the “Blue Jackets.” A play on the insect yellowjackets? Because the team owner wanted the name to contain a reference to the color blue? Maybe as a reference to northern soldiers in the Civil War (incidentally, referencing the Civil War in any sport where teams exist from both northern and southern states is generally the stupidest thing you could possibly do when naming a team)? Whatever the reason, the name is horrible.
  • Detroit Red Wings – Supposedly named as an homage to another team, the Montreal Winged Wheelers and found to be suitable for Motor City, the end result doesn’t quite work. I grant that this name could easily be marginal instead of crummy because wings suggest flight and speed but how a specifically colored wing by itself is of any sort of value in hockey (or anywhere else for that matter) is not clear and therefore the name is, in my estimation, not good.
  • St. Louis Blues – Supposedly named after the W. C. Handy song of the same name, it works on a local level and as a clever re-use of the song name, but as a hockey team name? Blues is just as bad as Reds if referring to the color, and given that the Blues use a musical note in their logo, I guess they’re going for the musical style connotation instead. But this is just as bad because there is nothing about Blues music that would be hockey-related. Except as what their fans sing when they play like they have for the last couple of years. Oh! Snap! I went there! Okay, I’m done, and so is this name.
  • Edmonton Oilers – Named as a reflection of the importance of the oil industry in the area, the problem with the name is that an “Oiler,” whom I suppose is one who extracts or mines or otherwise deals with oil, is in no way shape or form fitting as a parallel or even an associate for a hockey player. Locally specific but contextually stupid.
  • Minnesota Wild – I admit that the name “Wild” isn’t as terrible as, say, the Blue Jackets. But still, it’s an adjective masquerading as a noun which bugs me and the Wild don’t even really act like their name should be the Wild because their uniforms, logo and marketing efforts seem to be more akin to the Minnesota Wildcats. Which would have been a perfectly acceptable team name. Instead they went with Wild and their team name sucks. What can you do?
  • Anaheim Ducks – I thought long and hard about this one because on one hand, there is nothing inherently graceful, fast, intimidating or tough about a duck. There is also, as far as I know, no special connection between Anaheim and ducks. But I understand where the name came from, because the team was originally owned by Disney who put out a movie called “The Mighty Ducks” about a junior hockey team and they also produced an animated series featuring hockey playing ducks who were I guess also superheroes. It was a product tie-in but when the Disney connection faded, the name didn’t work so they simply dropped the “Mighty” and became the Ducks. But, again, Ducks is a lousy hockey team name and I haven’t given other teams slack for their intentions so it’s officially a crummy name.

Of course you’re always free to disagree and offer your own opinions. The comments section is open.

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3 thoughts on “NHL Team Names

  1. Don (a.k.a. Dad)

    Loved both the baseball and hockey name comments! One note, though: Does anyone else get a visual of Wile E. Coyote going “SPLAT” after a 20 second free fall off a cliff when mentioning the name Phoenix Coyotes?

  2. scott

    I’m thinking, since you’ve done MLB and NHL and Dad did the NFL, i’ll have to tackle the NBA. One note on the NHL ones – it has always bugged me when teams have a singular noun (or an adjective, in the case of the Wild), so the Avalanche would have been lower on my list. Sure, it’s a decent name and all, but it just bugs me. So Orlando and Miami will be docked points for this. Utah has its own reasons for being docked.

  3. ironsoap Post author

    @Don (a.k.a. Dad): Heh, I never really made the Wile E. Coyote connection before. Although I certainly will from now on, so thanks for that.

    @scott: Yeah, but would you really rather it be the Colorado Avalanches? Because that’s just awful. And you certainly should tackle the NBA; I was thinking about doing college football but that’s so daunting. There is some really good stuff there to mock, however. Demon Deacons? Boilermakers? Priceless in stupidity. Maybe if I went one conference at a time, or split it up with another sucker volunteer.

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