The Sports Lounge presents… What’s Behind a Nickname: The NHL

Every sports fan has their favorite team. Whether it be based on their geographic location, hometown, or just a favoritism of a logo, everyone has “their” team. But do you know why your team is named what they are? Or why any other team has their nickname? In this blog, I’ll look at each NHL team and the reason why they are named what they are. Some are self-explanatory, such as Ducks and Islanders. But some have deeper meanings that I will look at right here.

For the meaning behind the nicknames of teams in other leagues, check out my blogs on the NFL, NBA, and MLB.


Atlantic Division


1. Boston Bruins: When owner Charles Adams brought a hockey franchise to Boston, he asked his general manager to think of a nickname. The team’s colors were the same as the grocery stores Adams owned and he wanted some sort of wild animal for the mascot. The GM eventually decided on Bruins, another name for the brown bear.

2. Buffalo Sabres: When the owners of the new Buffalo franchise wanted a nickname, they held a contest. Sabres was ultimately chosen because it was unique and was a fierce weapon. The buffalo was thrown into the logo as a nod to the city.

3. Detroit Red Wings: When James Norris bought the Detroit Falcons hockey club, he renamed them the “Winged Wheelers, after a team he once played for. The name and logo also fit in Detroit because the city was emerging as a leader in the automobile industry. Eventually the name was changed to Red Wings.

4. Florida Panthers: The nickname Panther was chosen by team owner Wayne Huizenaga to draw attention to the animal that was native to Florida and also an endangered species at the time of the team’s formation.

5. Montreal Canadiens: The team was formed in 1909 and owner John Ambrose O’Brien wanted a name that would appeal to Montreal’s francophone population so he named the team the Canadiens. The are also often called “Les Habs”, which is short for “Les Habitants.”

6. Ottawa Senators: When hockey returned to Ottawa in the early 1990’s, the team owners named the club the Senators after the city’s previous club which had won 11 Stanley Cups. The name also fit since Ottawa is Canada’s capital city.

7. Tampa Bay Lightning: When team president Phil Esposito was trying to come up with a name for the expansion team, a thunderstorm began and gave him the idea to name the team the Lightning. Lightning and thunderstorms are also a common occurrence in the city so the name fit perfectly.

8. Toronto Maple Leafs: When Conn Smythe purchased the Toronto club, he was set to change their name. The club had previously played as the Arenas and St. Patrick’s, but Smythe eventually picked Maple Leafs. Most think that he picked Maple Leafs because he fought in the Maple Leaf Regiment during World War I. There was also a previous team in Toronto that were called the East Maple Leaves.

Metropolitan Division


1. Carolina Hurricanes: When the beloved Hartford Whalers made the quick move to Carolina, owner Peter Karmanos Jr. named the team himself and picked Hurricanes, a storm system that frequently hits the Carolina area.

2. Columbus Blue Jackets: A name-the-team contest was held for the expansion franchise and Blue Jackets and Justice were the top two names. Blue Jackets was eventually picked to celebrate the Civil War history in the state of Ohio, a state that contributed more residents to the Union Army than any other.

3. New Jersey Devils: When the Colorado Rockies moved to New Jersey, the team needed a new nickname and Devils was picked in a contest. The name is a reference to the Jersey Devil, a legendary cryptozoic creature that is said to inhabit the New Jersey woods.

4. New York Islanders: The Islanders nickname was third in a contest to name Major League Baseball’s New York franchise that would become the Mets. Years later, when New York got another NHL franchise, they picked Islanders for their team. The team also has played on Long Island until next year when they will become the Brooklyn Islanders. The name will still fit however as all of the New York boroughs are islands.

5. New York Rangers: Madison Square Garden president G.I. “Tex” Rickard wanted his own NHL team. When he was awarded one, locals began referring to the team as “Tex’s Rangers”, and the name stuck with the franchise.

6. Philadelphia Flyers: Ed Snider brought a hockey team to Philadelphia in 1966 and held a contest to name the team. His sister suggested Flyers and people liked it so it was chosen, although it has no meaning behind it.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins: A name-the-team contest was held but a wife of one of the owners was trying to think of a name. Author Bob Grove recalled how she came up with the name in his book Pittsburgh Penguins: The Official History of the First 30 Years, “I was thinking of something with a P. And I said to Jack, ‘What do they call the Civic Arena?’ And he said, ‘The Big Igloo.’ So I thought ice. . . Pittsburgh. . . Penguins.” The rest is history as the name was unanimously picked.

8. Washington Capitals: Owner Abe Pollin held a contest to name the team but then picked Capitals because it was the obvious choice for his team in the nation’s capital.


Central Division


1. Chicago Blackhawks: Owner Frederic McLaughlin named the team the Black Hawks after the 86th Infantry Division, also known as the “Black Hawk Division”, that he served in during World War I. The division’s nickname came from Chief Black Hawk of the Sauk American Indian tribe. Eventually the name was from Black Hawks to Blackhawks.

2. Colorado Avalanche: Denver’s previous hockey team was nicknamed the Rockies but by the time the Quebec Nordiques were set to move to Colorado, the MLB team in Colorado had already taken the Rockies nickname, so Avalanche was picked over a few other ideas.

3. Dallas Stars: When the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas, they simply dropped the “North” part and called themselves the Stars because Texas is known as the “Lone Star State.”

4. Minnesota Wild: When the NHL returned to Minnesota, Wild was chosen in a contest. The name was picked because of the state’s wildlife and outdoors reputation.

5. Nashville Predators: Predators was chosen in a contest. The name was picked as a reference to the remains of a sabre-toothed tiger that were found in the city in 1971.

6. St. Louis Blues: Owner Sid Saloman Jr. picked the name Blues because of a W.C. Handy song named “St. Louis Blues.”

7. Winnipeg Jets: The original Winnipeg Jets got their name from a team that played in Canada’s Western Hockey League. But that team eventually left to become the Phoenix Coyotes. When the Atlanta Thrashers, named for Georgia’s state bird, the brown thrasher, were sold and moved to Winnipeg, the team adopted the nickname of Winnipeg’s former NHL club.

Pacific Division


1. Anaheim Ducks: After Disney had a hit with the movie The Mighty Ducks, the NHL awarded a franchise to Disney. They called their team the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and used the same logo from the movie. When Disney sold the team, the new owners changed the name to the Anaheim Ducks.

2. Arizona Coyotes: Coyotes beat out Scorpions in a name-the-team contest when the Winnipeg Jets moved south in 1996.

3. Calgary Flames: The franchise originally began as the Atlanta Flames and were named that as a reference to the city being burned to the ground during the Civil War. When a new owner moved the team to Calgary, he kept the Flames nickname because it fit in an oil town. All he did was replace the “Flaming A” logo with a “C”.

4. Edmonton Oilers: Original owner Bill Hunter previously owned a junior club that had the popular nickname of Oilers. So when he began a franchise in the World Hockey Association, he named them the Oilers and the name stuck with the team when they moved to the NHL.

5. Los Angeles Kings: Owner Jack Kent Cooke chose the name Kings from entries submitted in a fan contest.

6. San Jose Sharks: Ideas came in from all over in a name-the-team contest and Sharks was eventually selected. The original winner was Blades, but that name was rejected for concerns over gang implications.

7. Vancouver Canucks: Canuck is slang for Canadian, but the name actually comes from Johnny Canuck, a political cartoon character. The character was popular at one time and then made a return as a comic book super hero during World War II. His character even fought against Adolph Hitler, making him even more popular.

Thanks to the following sites for information: NHL, Wikipedia, Sports Net and mental_floss

Daryl Karpinski Jr.