NHL Dictionary: Team Nicknames (Western Conference Edition)

Cully Dahlstrom, Oscar Hansen, and Vic Heyliger in training for Chicago, November 1937. Image courtesy of trbimg.com.

And now, the thrilling conclusion! What began in the East will conclude in the West, where we meet anachronistic Flames, Predatory artifacts, shamelessly thieving Jets, and many more!


Anaheim Ducks – If you don’t think ducks are a particularly fearsome mascot, remember that this is actually a step up for Anaheim. The team started out as the “Mighty Ducks of Anaheim,” back when they were owned by the cross-marketing machine that is Disney. (Why “Mighty Ducks of Anaheim” rather than the “Anaheim Mighty Ducks”? No clue, but that was the official name and everyone had to abide by it. It was obnoxious in pretty much every way.) They became the Ducks in 2006, ostensibly due to Disney’s sale of the team but in truth because someone in the front office finally realized that the hockey gods were never going to allow the words “Mighty Ducks” to appear on the Stanley Cup.

They attempted the Atlanta experiment twice. Twice. Image courtesy of Rick Dikeman (CC)

Calgary Flames – They used to be the Atlanta Flames and then they moved to Calgary, which tells you why they’re the Calgary Flames. If you want to know why they were the Atlanta Flames in the first place, it’s because Atlanta was famously burned to the ground during the American Civil War and apparently that’s something they’re proud of down there. No, really. That’s the reason. They’re like the Reverse Columbus Blue Jackets.

Chicago Blackhawks – The Blackhawks are not named for a bird nor for a Native American tribal chief. Rather, they are named for a United States Army division from World War I… that was named for a Native American tribal chief who himself was named for a bird. The original team owner, Major Frederic McLaughlin, had fought with that particular division, and also thought “Black Hawks” (it was changed to one word much later) sounded a hell of a lot better than “Rosebuds.” He was right.

Note: Many American high schools and universities are replacing their American Indian-based mascots with ones that are less potentially offensive, but pro clubs have resisted that trend. Although the NFL’s Washington Redskins have taken quite a bit of heat for this in the past year or two, the Blackhawks seem mostly immune to that controversy. Indeed, people praise the Blackhawks logo for looking cool while conveniently ignoring the fact that it’s a clear depiction of a racial stereotype. It’s a vexing issue, and not one we’re going to dwell on too much in this post.

Colorado Avalanche – Unlike some franchises that will go nameless until we get to the very end of this post, the team that relocated to Colorado did not take the same name as the one that had previously relocated from Colorado. That left “Rockies” out of the picture, but the city of Denver and the state of Colorado are so deeply associated with the Rocky Mountains that an alpine-related name was in order. Thus, Avalanche.

The legendary Gump Worsley in action. Image courtesy of northstarshockey.com

Dallas Stars – The most elegant of all relocation renamings, the franchise simply dropped “North” when it moved from Minnesota to Dallas. Not only did this preserve the connection to the Minnesota North Stars part of the team’s history but it also created a fitting name for the only NHL team in Texas, which is nicknamed the Lone Star state. (All US states have official nicknames, as well as official state birds, official state flowers and a bunch of other official state stuff with no real purpose. That’s just how we roll.)

Edmonton OilersCome and listen to my story ’bout a man named Gord:

A poor Alberta boy, barely kept his Molson poured.
Then one day he was shootin’ at a moose,
And a non-renewable resource was totally let loose.
Oil, that is. Black gold. Edmonton tea.

Los Angeles Kings – Original owner Jack Kent Cooke just liked the idea of a royal name. Had he been a different kind of guy, Darryl Sutter might be coaching the Los Angeles Proletariat right now.

Minnesota Wild – If you can figure it out, god bless. “Wild” seems to have been the fan submission that the team’s marketing department liked best. Why? Because they were people of extremely questionable taste.

The remains of the Sabre Tooth Tiger Saber-Toothed Cat. Image courtesy of Wallace63 (CC)

Nashville Predators – The Predators’ logo has one of the the coolest origin stories in sports: While excavating the site of Nashville’s soon-to-be-built arena in 1971, workers discovered ancient bones that belonged to a saber-toothed tiger. When the city was awarded an NHL expansion franchise in 1997, the team adopted a snarling saber-toothed tiger logo and then sought a name that would go along with it. The team name, which was chosen by fan vote, is understandably a few degrees less awesome than the logo.

Not much is documented on the names that weren’t picked, but one assumes there were a few factors working against the idea of just naming the team directly after the bones:

1. There was already a team called the Sabres;

2. The “Nashville Saber-Toothed Tigers” is pretty clunky;

3. Good luck getting people to agree on how to spell saber-toothed/sabre-toothed/saber toothed/sabre toothed/saber-tooth/sabre-tooth/saber tooth/sabre tooth/sabertoothed/sabretoothed/sabertooth/sabretooth.

And don’t even get us started on the tiger vs. cat issue. In light of all that, “Predators” seems like a pretty solid choice.

Phoenix Coyotes – Fans voted to name the team for a ferocious animal native to the area. It’s about the most straightforward, logical thing in the franchise’s off-ice history. Of course, that means the name has to change. (Sarcasm aside, the change makes sense. Too many North American teams are named for cities they don’t actually play in.)

San Jose Sharks – Another Name the Team contest, another deadly, geographically-relevant animal.

St. Louis Blues – St. Louis isn’t at the top of the depth chart when it comes to American cities known for their music (it’s third line at best, and that’s being generous), but original team owner Sid Saloman, Jr. was justifiably proud of St. Louis’s blues heritage.

Vancouver Canucks – The short answer is that the team is named after an old cartoon character. The long answer is much, much longer.

Jets legend. Image courtesy of John Julian (CC)

Winnipeg Jets – Last and most assuredly least, we have the Winnipeg Jets. You might recall our distaste with the Ottawa Senators’ choice to recycle the name of a now-defunct team. Well, bad as that was, the Jets are even worse, since the old Winnipeg Jets still exist! While we can understand the impulse to grasp for any possible connection to Teemu Selanne, it’s still not cool to swoop into a city and appropriate the name of the club that dwelt there before you.

It’s the professional sports version of building your house on an ancient graveyard. And it’s confusing as hell. To wit: The leading scorer in the history of the current Winnipeg Jets is Ilya Kovalchuk, who set the record without ever setting foot in Winnipeg. Conversely, Dale Hawerchuk, who holds the franchise points record for the Phoenix Coyotes, set that mark while wearing a Winnipeg Jets uniform. Which of those men can rightly be called the leading scorer in Winnipeg Jets history?

Exactly. It’s needlessly tangled and convoluted, and all because Winnipeg was more interested in nostalgia than in reality. Today’s Jets have their own legitimate legacy – that of the Atlanta Thrashers they once were. There’s no need to usurp the history that rightly belongs to the team now known as the Phoenix Coyotes.

As for the origin of the former Winnipeg Jets’ name, it was also taken from another team – a junior team in the Western Hockey League which began as the Winnipeg Jets and then went through a series of names and homes en route to becoming today’s Lethbridge Hurricanes. The junior team probably selected the name as a nod to the importance of the aerospace industry in the region, but that’s mostly speculation since the story behind the story behind the story isn’t getting told much these days. More’s the pity, but that’s what you get when you muddy up history beyond recognition.

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