Stories behind every NHL team name
In June 2019, the St. Louis Blues defeated the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final in seven games. The Bruins came up short in their quest for a seventh championship, while the Blues made history when they brought home the franchise’s first Cup. Their run was made more improbable given their dead-last league position in January; Vegas even listed them as near-impossible 250-to-1 long shots to win the title at the time.
But by June, St. Louis had not only remarkably overcome a lost season, but had made its way through the playoff gauntlet into a winner-take-all Game 7, and then emerged hoisting the Cup behind clutch scoring and stellar goaltending from an unlikely hero in Jordan Binnington. Blues fans who, over the winter, had moved their jazz-note jerseys to the back of their closets, proudly wore them for the remainder of the summer.
Team colors, logos, images of players, and heroic maneuvers on the ice are ubiquitous with fandom, as die-hards spend money traveling to games, purchasing tickets and merchandise, and generally serving as walking advertisements for the team they support. Knowing something about the history and trivia behind your team connects to an important part of the psychology that unites otherwise random people in a connected social experience.
The longest-running fan bases are those of the iconic “Original Six” teams in the league, and their logos, mascots, and colors are easily the most recognizable: The yellow and black of the Bruins; red and black of the Chicago Blackhawks; red and white of the Detroit Red Wings; blue and white of the Toronto Maple Leafs; and the red, white, and blue of both the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers.
How does a team come to be known as a bear, fish, bird, plant, or a historical figure, anyway? How does an owner assure buy-in from the fanbase, with a name that is both connected to the place and can inspire an appealing logo and mascot?
To find out more about how all 31 NHL teams got their names (and how some owners rebranded teams when they moved to different cities), Stacker searched for answers in team histories from the National Hockey Association's (NHA) founding in 1909 to its replacement as the NHL in 1917 and the comings and goings of other leagues to today. If a current team had a through-line in any of these leagues, we found out when and where they played, what they were called, and why. Sources include NHL.com, local history sites, and fan sites. We discovered how prevalent it was to have fan involvement in the naming process, through contests and voting.
Read on to learn which team was named after a Disney movie, and which one was inspired by a team at the U.S. Military Academy.
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Founded by the Walt Disney Company in 1993, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks were named after the 1992 film “The Mighty Ducks.” When Disney sold the team in 2005, the new owners dropped the adjective from their team's name. Two years later the Ducks won the franchise’s only Stanley Cup.
The Arizona Coyotes began as the former World Hockey Association’s Winnipeg Jets in 1971. When team owners moved the franchise to the Phoenix area in 1996, a more appropriate geographic name was chosen by fans in a naming contest, beating out the Scorpions. The Coyotes’ only success has been their lone division title for the 2011-12 season.
In 1924, advertising dollars had the power to shape what we see and believe—just like today. When a grocery store tycoon in Boston, Charles Adams, started a hockey team, he didn't have a name in mind. If the name and colors matched the yellow-and-brown color scheme of his store, he was happy. The quick and cunning brown bear, or “bruin” in Old English folk tales, was a good fit for the color—and for the temperament of the “Original Six” team. The Bruins won their sixth Cup in 2011.
The city of Buffalo has plenty of names playing off Buffalo Bill Cody, or buffalo the animal. So when the city's hockey team was founded in 1970, owners wanted to be innovative. What more effective way than to invite fans to submit names? Sabres was the clear winner. The logo of a buffalo appearing to leap over a pair of crossed sabres evokes daring and agility. The Sabres have reached three Stanley Cup finals but have never won.
The image of a place on fire makes perfect sense when thinking about the city of Atlanta, Ga., which burned during a Civil War battle in 1864. Thus Atlanta's hockey team was named the Flames in 1972; when the team moved to Calgary in 1980, the name went with it. They won their only Stanley Cup in 1989.
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This aptly named team was originally based in New England in 1972 and known as the Whalers (and later the Hartford Whalers). The golden era of New England whaling is long gone, but the era of the hurricane shows no sign of going extinct in Raleigh, N.C. The Hurricanes have been to two Stanley Cup finals, winning in 2006.
A Native American leader of the Sac and Fox tribe, Black Hawk was a major figure in the War of 1812 and other important moments in U.S. history. His name carried forward, lending itself as a nickname of the 86th Infantry Division during World War I. Frederic McLaughlin, a commander in that division, would go on to own an expansion hockey team in 1926—one of the “Original Six”—naming it after Black Hawk, referencing both the man and the division. They’ve won six Stanley Cups, most recently in 2015.
The Avalanche were originally the Quebec Nordiques when the team was located in Canada from 1972 to 1995. Team owners tried out several ideas that conjured the outdoors flavor of their new location in Denver: “Extreme,” “Blizzard,” and “Black Bears.” Fans in the Rocky Mountain region ultimately supported the choice of Avalanche—especially when they won their first of two Cups in their debut Colorado season.
Columbus Blue Jackets
In 1997, the NHL granted Columbus, Ohio, an expansion hockey franchise, the search for a name was on. The owners teamed up with Columbus-based Wendy's restaurants to invite fan input. The resulting 14,000 entries became 10; then 10 became two, with “Justice” as the other contender. Blue Jackets got the nod because the name evoked the area's efforts in the Union Army during the Civil War. They’ve never reached a Cup final.
From 1967, the Minnesota North Stars shone over Minneapolis—until they didn't. A combination of poor attendance, venue problems, and owner Norman Green's personal difficulties prompted the team to head south to Texas in 1993. Roger Staubach of the Dallas Cowboys helped convince Green that the city would be a good market, and the newly (shortened) named Stars arrived in time for the 1993–94 season, paying homage to the North Stars and the Lone Star State. In 1999, Dallas won its only Stanley Cup.
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