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NHL team nicknames explained

Origins for 31 franchises, from fan voting to historical nods

by Cristina Ledra and Pat Pickens / NHL.com Staff Writers

Five months after being awarded an expansion franchise, Las Vegas owner Bill Foley announced on Nov. 22, 2016, that his team, the 31st in the NHL, will be called the Vegas Golden Knights.

Choosing a name is one of the most important steps for any new franchise. NHL team nicknames have a variety of origins: Many were selected through a fan vote or the owner's choice, some reflect a city's geography and others are a nod to history or nature.

In every case, much thought and deliberation went into choosing the perfect name.

Here are the origins of the other 30 NHL team names:

 

 

1. Anaheim Ducks

The Walt Disney Co. was awarded a Southern California-based expansion franchise on Dec. 10, 1992. Looking to capitalize on its hockey film "The Mighty Ducks" from earlier that year, Disney named the team the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

With purple, jade, silver and white as their original colors, the Mighty Ducks skated for 12 NHL seasons before Disney sold the team to Henry and Susan Samueli. On June 22, 2006, the Samuelis renamed the franchise the Anaheim Ducks and unveiled a new duck-foot logo and a color scheme of black, orange and metallic gold designed to "create an overall image that expressed excitement, speed and a competitive edge," according to the Ducks website. Anaheim won the Stanley Cup for the first time the following season.

 

 

2. Arizona Coyotes

After the Winnipeg Jets announced on Dec. 19, 1995 that they were moving to Phoenix for the 1996-97 season, the new ownership group had a name-the-team contest that attracted more than 10,000 votes. Coyotes was announced as the winner on April 8, 1996, finishing ahead of the second-place Scorpions, according to The Associated Press.

The Coyotes moved from downtown Phoenix to Glendale, Ariz., during the 2003-04 season and changed their name to the Arizona Coyotes after they were sold in 2014 to "encourage more fans from all over the state, not just the valley, to embrace and support our team," co-owner Anthony LeBlanc said.

 

 

3. Boston Bruins

Art Ross is credited with designing the modern hockey puck and changes to the net that lasted 40 years. He's also responsible for the name of Boston's franchise. After the NHL agreed to award Boston grocery tycoon Charles Adams a team, Adams hired Ross as general manager and asked him to come up with a nickname derived from an untamed, cunning animal. Ross chose bruin, an Old English term for a brown bear used in folk tales. The original brown and yellow colors matched those of Adams' grocery stores.

 

 

4. Buffalo Sabres

Wanting something other than a variation on buffalo or bison, owners Seymour Knox III and Northrup Knox had a contest after being awarded a franchise that would take the ice in 1970. They wanted something unique and Sabres, suggested by four people from among 13,000 entries, was the winner; it beat out entries such as the Mugwumps, Buzzing Bees and Flying Zeppelins. The owners chose Sabres because "a sabre is renowned as a clean, sharp, decisive and penetrating weapon on offense, as well as a strong parrying weapon on defense."

 

 

5. Calgary Flames

The Flames were born in Atlanta when the NHL granted an expansion franchise on Nov. 9, 1971. The franchise held a name-the-team contest, but according to Stephen Laroche's book "Changing the Game: A History of NHL Expansion," Flames was on 198 of 10,000 ballots. Tom Cousins, the franchise's first owner, chose it to pay homage to the burning of Atlanta by Union soldiers during the Civil War.

The Flames reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs six times in their eight seasons in Atlanta before they were sold to a group headed by Nelson Skalbania on May 21, 1980, and the franchise moved to Calgary for the 1980-81 season. After holding a name-the-team contest, the ownership group voted to retain the Flames name and change the logo from a flaming "A" to a flaming "C."

 

 

6. Carolina Hurricanes

The franchise, which began as the New England Whalers in the World Hockey Association in 1972, relocated to North Carolina in 1997 after entering the NHL as the Hartford Whalers in 1979. Hurricanes Bertha and Fran hit North Carolina in 1996, and the powerful storms were fresh on everyone's mind when owner Peter Karmanos, Jr. chose the new nickname of Hurricanes prior to their debut in 1997-98.

 

 

7. Chicago Blackhawks

The Black Hawks were founded in 1926, along with the New York Rangers and Detroit Cougars (renamed the Red Wings in 1932). They were the last of the Original Six to enter the NHL.

The franchise's nickname came from original owner Frederic McLaughlin's 86th Infantry Division of the United States Army, which was known as the "Blackhawk Division." McLaughlin, a Chicago native, had served as a member of the division's 333rd Machine Gun Battalion during World War I. The team name officially became Blackhawks, one word, like the military division, in 1986.

 

 

8. Colorado Avalanche

The Quebec Nordiques were sold to the Communications Satellite Organization (COMSAT) and relocated to Denver on May 25, 1995. However, the franchise was unable to use the nickname of Denver's previous NHL team, the Colorado Rockies (who moved to New Jersey to become the Devils in 1982). That name belonged to the Major League Baseball franchise that began play in Denver in 1993.

The new owners wanted to call the franchise the "Rocky Mountain Extreme," according to the Denver Post, but scrapped the name after public backlash. After ownership created a list of names in an online forum, fans chose Avalanche over Black Bears, Rapids, Cougars, Outlaws, Renegades, Storm and Wranglers, according to the newspaper.

 

 

9. Columbus Blue Jackets

Picked out of 14,000 entries in a contest for the Columbus franchise, which entered the League in 2000-01, Blue Jackets won the vote over the second-place Justice. The name represents the blue coats worn by Union soldiers during the Civil War. Not only did Columbus produce most of those blue coats, but Ohio had more soldiers in the Union Army (nearly 320,000) than any other state. The name and logo are reflective of the area's pride in its place in American history.

 

 

10. Dallas Stars

The franchise was known as the Minnesota North Stars before moving to Dallas for the 1993-94 season and dropping "North" from its name after moving to the Lone Star State.

 

 

11. Edmonton Oilers

When Bill Hunter was deciding on a name for his WHA team in 1972, he first called it the Alberta Oilers. Oilers was a nickname for his Junior A team in Edmonton, the Oil Kings; in 1973, Hunter changed the team's name to the Edmonton Oilers. When the NHL absorbed four teams from the WHA in 1979, the Oilers retained their name.

Oil is one of Alberta's most prevalent natural resources; the province has the world's third-largest reserves behind Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, according to its website.

 

 

12. Detroit Red Wings

The Detroit Cougars were founded in 1926 but changed their name to Falcons before settling on Red Wings in 1932. The team initially was part of the Western Canada Hockey League and was purchased by Jack Adams, who changed the name amid financial struggles. However, the name change to Falcons failed to end the franchise's money troubles, and James Norris bought the team. Norris and Adams agreed the franchise would be known as the Red Wings, similar to one of Norris' former teams, the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association's Winged Wheelers, and also was a nod to Detroit's auto industry.

 

 

13. Florida Panthers

Original owner Wayne Huizenga chose Panthers as the name for his expansion team, which began play in 1993-94, to bring attention to the plight of Florida's state animal, which is critically endangered. Fewer than 100 panthers remain in the wild, according to the National Wildlife Federation.

 

 

14. Los Angeles Kings

Entrepreneur Jack Kent Cooke, who also owned the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers and NFL's Washington Redskins, was awarded an NHL expansion franchise for Los Angeles on Feb. 9, 1966. He asked for help in choosing a nickname for his new team; after receiving more than 7,000 potential names, Cooke chose Kings on May 27, 1966, because he was "looking for a name that would be symbolic of leadership in hockey," according to the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.

Tweet from @LAKings: 49 years ago today, Jack Kent Cooke, with the help of a fan contest, decided on Los Angeles��� NHL team name ���Kings���. pic.twitter.com/9ktg2F68Dz

 

 

15. Minnesota Wild

The North Stars departed for Dallas in 1993, but Minnesota was not out of the NHL for long. On June 25, 1997, Minnesota Hockey Ventures Group LLC was awarded an expansion franchise to begin play in 2000-01.

With their former team now known as the Dallas Stars, many fans wanted to resurrect the name North Stars, but a trademark issue with the NHL made that an impossibility. From more than 13,000 submissions in a contest, Wild was selected by management in recognition of the popularity of outdoor activity in Minnesota. The name trumped Blue Ox, Freeze, Northern Lights, Voyageurs and White Bears.

"We liked the marketing potential of Wild, so we went with it," chief operating officer Matt Majka said in 2011.

 

 

16. Montreal Canadiens

The franchise's first owner, John Ambrose O'Brien, gave the team its official name, Club de hockey Canadien. The nickname "Habs" is short for Les Habitants, which refers to the French settlers and inhabitants of the land along the St. Lawrence Gulf and River in Quebec beginning in the 17th century. The "H" in the logo stands for hockey, not Habitants, a popular misconception.

 

 

17. Nashville Predators

While digging to build a skyscraper in Nashville during the early 1970s, excavators discovered a fang and a leg bone from a saber-toothed tiger; it was one of the few such discoveries in North America. Three months after Nashville was awarded an NHL expansion franchise on June 25, 1997, the ownership group debuted a saber-toothed tiger logo.

Fans were invited to choose a name to accompany the logo, and they chose Predators, which became the official nickname of Nashville's first pro sports franchise on Nov. 13, 1997.

 

 

18. New Jersey Devils

New Jersey's nickname was selected from 10,000 entries in a contest after the franchise relocated from Colorado, where it was known as the Rockies. The Jersey Devil is a mythical creature said to live in the Pine Barrens region in southern New Jersey. Although many sightings have been reported since the 1700s, historians claim there is no such creature and the Jersey Devil was merely a political smear from Benjamin Franklin to one of his rivals.

 

 

19. New York Islanders

The franchise chose Islanders as its name, although many expected it to choose the Long Island Ducks, the name used by a team that played in the Eastern Hockey League from 1959-73. The Islanders played at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., from their debut in 1972 until they moved to Barclays Center in Brooklyn for the 2015-16 season.

 

 

20. New York Rangers

After Madison Square Garden, led by president George Lewis "Tex" Rickard, was awarded a franchise in 1926, sportswriters began referring to the players being signed by the new team as "Tex's Rangers," a play on the name of the lawmen known as Texas Rangers. The name stuck, and Rickard adopted it by stripping Rangers diagonally across the front of the uniform.

 

 

21. Ottawa Senators

The original Ottawa Senators were founded in 1883, played in the NHL from 1917-34, and won the Stanley Cup 11 times. When Canada's capital was awarded an expansion franchise in 1990, it was only natural to revive the name synonymous with that success.

 

 

22. Philadelphia Flyers

The franchise's ownership group held a naming contest in 1966 for the team that would debut the following year. The grand prize was a 21-inch color television, which cost about $400 at the time; secondary prizes included season and single-game tickets. Once the ownership group decided on a name, all entries suggesting that name would be in the pool to win the prizes. Owner Ed Snider's sister came up with the name "Flyers," connoting speed, after a trip to Manhattan to see a Broadway show. Alec Stockard, 9, of Narberth, Pennsylvania, won the contest.

Tweet from @NHLFlyers: 50 years ago today, our franchise adopted the #Flyers as our name. Read the story behind it ��� https://t.co/8ykBULPhaK

 

 

23. Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Civic Arena opened five years before the city was awarded an expansion franchise in 1966 and already was known as "The Igloo" because of its large dome design. When the time came to name the new team scheduled to begin play in 1967-68, Penguins was a natural fit. More than 700 of the 26,000 entries in the team's naming contest suggested Penguins; the winner, Emily Roberts of Belle Vernon, Pa., was the new team's first season-ticket holder.

 

 

24. San Jose Sharks

When George and Gordon Gund were awarded an expansion franchise for San Jose on May 10, 1990, they offered fans the opportunity to name the team. More than 5,000 entries were submitted, and Sharks was chosen by management over Blades, Breakers, Breeze, Condors, Fog, Gold, Golden Gaters, Golden Skaters, Grizzlies, Icebreakers, Knights, Redwoods, Sea Lions and Waves.

Sharks was chosen because more than seven species live in the northern Pacific Ocean.

"Sharks are relentless, determined, swift, agile, bright and fearless," then-executive vice president of marketing and broadcast Matt Levine said. "We plan to build an organization that has all those qualities."

 

 

25. St. Louis Blues

When insurance tycoon Sid Salomon Jr. was awarded an NHL franchise on Feb. 9, 1966, he could think of only one name for his team: the St. Louis Blues, after W.C. Handy's famous 1914 song.

"The name of the team has to be the Blues," Salomon said. "It's part of the city where W.C. Handy composed his famed song while thinking of his girl one morning. No matter where you go in town there's singing. That's the spirit of St. Louis."

 

 

26. Tampa Bay Lightning

The Tampa Bay area, which encompasses Tampa, St. Petersburg and Clearwater, is sometimes referred to as the "lightning capital of North America." The idea for the name Lightning came to then-franchise president Phil Esposito during a thunderstorm in 1990, two years before Tampa Bay played its first NHL game.

 

 

27. Toronto Maple Leafs

Conn Smythe bought the Toronto St. Pats in 1927 after the franchise almost had been sold to a group in Philadelphia. He immediately changed the name of the team to the Maple Leafs to honor Canada's soldiers who wore the Maple Leaf while fighting during World War I.

"We chose it ... hoping that the possession of this badge would mean something to the team that wore it and when they skated out on the ice with this badge on their chest ... they would wear it with honor and pride and courage, the way it had been worn by the soldiers of the first Great War in the Canadian Army," said Smythe, who also changed the team's colors from green and white to blue and white.

 

 

28. Vancouver Canucks

Vancouver was awarded an expansion franchise on May 22, 1970, and Canucks was the obvious choice for the new team's name. The Vancouver Canucks had existed since 1945, first in the Pacific Coast Hockey League and then in the Western Hockey League after the PCHL merged with the Western Canada Senior Hockey League to become the WHL in 1952.

"Canuck" is slang for Canadian and has been part of the country's lexicon since 1869, when "Johnny Canuck" debuted in a political cartoon. A skating version of Johnny was the team's WHL mascot and has since been adopted as Vancouver's secondary logo. He is displayed on the shoulders of the Canucks alternate jersey.

 

Video: Bill Foley on the choosing of team name and logo

 

29. Vegas Golden Knights

On Nov. 22, 2016, five months to the day Las Vegas was awarded an expansion franchise, team owner Bill Foley, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, where the athletic teams are callled the Black Knights, announced his team would be known as the Golden Knights.

"The Knight protects the unprotected," Foley said. "The Knight defends the realm. The Knight never gives up, never gives in, always advances, never retreats, and that's what our team's going to be."

 

 

30. Washington Capitals

After being awarded an NHL expansion franchise on June 9, 1972, owner Abe Pollin had a naming contest and made the obvious choice for a team representing the capital of the United States.

 

 

31. Winnipeg Jets

After the Atlanta Thrashers franchise was sold and relocated to Winnipeg for the 2011-12 season, fans chose to stick with the name of the franchise that had moved to Phoenix in 1996 rather than call it Falcons or the Manitoba Moose (the name used by the American Hockey League team then playing in Winnipeg). However, the team colors and logo were changed.

The original Jets were another former WHA team; their owner, Ben Hatskin, reportedly was a fan of the NFL's New York Jets. The team retained its name when it entered the NHL from the WHA in 1979. A major junior team based in Winnipeg began play in 1967 and used the name Jets through the 1972-73 season, then changed to Clubs and later Monarchs to distinguish itself from the WHA team.

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