With 31 current teams standing in the league, soon to be 32 come 2021, the NHL has laid roots across the country with professional hockey franchises dating back as early as 1942. Going through the timeline of each franchise inaugurated into the league, here is a history of every NHL team’s name origins.
Boston Bruins (1942)
As one of the first six original teams to kickstart the era of the NHL, the Boston Bruins have been a familiar presence in the league since 1942. When deciding on a team name, owner Charles Adams enlisted the help of general manager Art Ross, asking him to suggest a name for an untamed, cunning animal. Ross offered “Bruins”, an Old English term often used in folk talks that refers to a brown bear. The name stuck. Interestingly, the team’s colors – black and gold – were also chosen to match those of Adams’ chain of supermarkets.
New York Rangers (1942)
In 1926, Madison Square Garden president George Lewis “Tex” Richards was awarded an NHL franchise. Prior to deciding on a team name, reporters coined players that were signed on as “Tex’s Rangers”, a play on words referencing the lawmen known as Texas Rangers. Richards was fond of the nickname and made it permanent by scrawling “Rangers” across the team’s logo.
Chicago Blackhawks (1942)
The Blackhawks’ name stems from original owner Frederic McLaughlin’s division in the United States Army during his time serving in World War I. The division, known as the “Blackhawk Division” was originally adapted as a two-word mascot – Black Hawks. By 1986, the name was condensed to its military spelling, Blackhawks.
Montreal Canadiens (1942)
John Ambrose O’Brien, Montreal’s first franchise owner, chose the team’s first name, Club de hockey Canadien. The team’s popular nickname “Habs” refers to the French word, Les Habitants, which describes French settlers that inhabited the land along the St. Lawrence Gulf during the early 17th century. Contrary to popular belief, the ‘H’ in the team’s logo signifies hockey, not Habitants.
Toronto Maple Leafs (1942)
After the original Toronto hockey franchise, formerly known as the St. Pats in 1927, were nearly relocated to Philadelphia, Conn Smythe bought and changed the team’s name to Maple Leafs. The mascot was chosen to pay homage to the Maple Leaf – a symbol sewn onto the uniforms worn by Canadian soldiers during World War I.
Detroit Red Wings (1942)
Formerly known as the Detroit Falcons and later the Detroit Cougars, the modern-day Detroit Red Wings re-branded their franchise in 1932 after new team owner James Norris thought it fitting to name his team after his amateur hockey club, the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association, otherwise known as the Winged Wheelers. Though the Wheelers never formally played in the NHL, the team won the first-ever Stanley Cup in 1893.
Los Angeles Kings (1967)
Despite a naming contest being held, Los Angeles Kings owner Jack Kent Cooke felt that his new NHL team should embrace all of the pompous splendor of its grand entry into the NHL. As such, the name Kings was a perfect fit. Before the franchise adopted its modern black and grey color scheme, Cooke – who was also the owner of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers – felt that a purple and yellow color scheme was an obvious choice.
Dallas Stars (1967)
Prior to moving to Dallas in 1993, the franchise formerly known as the Minnesota North Stars dropped “North” from its original title in honor of the Lone Star State.
Philadelphia Flyers (1967)
Before the start of the 1967-1968 season, team owner Ed Snider held a name contest for Philadelphia’s new NHL franchise. Snider’s sister settled on the name Flyers, which is meant to symbolize the rapid breakneck speed of professional hockey.
Pittsburgh Penguins (1967)
Five years before the city of Pittsburgh gained an expansion franchise, it had already named its new home arena “the Igloo”, due to the venue’s large dome shape. After holding a name contest that attracted roughly 26,000 entries, the franchise eventually settled on popular suggestion, Penguins.
St. Louis Blues (1967)
The St. Louis Blues derive their mascot from the 1914 song composed by W.C. Handy, “St. Louis Blues.” Team owner Sid Salomon Jr. firmly believed that there could be no other more legitimate name for the new NHL franchise. According to Salomon, “No matter where you go in town there’s singing. That’s the spirit of St. Louis.”
Buffalo Sabres (1970)
Taking the ice in 1970, the Buffalo Sabres decided upon their mascot from a name contest. Among 13,000 entries including Mugwumps, Buzzing Bees, and Flying Zeppelins, Sabres was ultimately chosen. According to owners Seymour Knox III and Northrup Knox, “a sabre is renowned as a clean, sharp, decisive and penetrating weapon on offense, as well as a strong parrying weapon on defense.”
Vancuever Canucks (1970)
Since 1869, “Canuck”, slang for a Canadian, has been a part of Canada’s lexicon after Johnny Canuck first appeared as a political cartoon. When Vancouver was awarded an expansion franchise in 1970, the team reignited its original franchise which played in the Pacific Coast Hockey (PCHL) in 1945 before merging with the Western Canada Senior Hockey League (WHL) in 1952.
New York Islanders (1972)
Though many expected New York’s new NHL team to be named Ducks after a local minor league team, Long Island sought to distinguish itself. The new team owners opted for the name Islanders, after the team that played in the Eastern Hockey League between 1959 and 1973.
Calgary Flames (1972)
Originally founded as the Atlanta Flames, the team sponsored a renaming contest when it was granted an expansion franchise in 1971. Of the 10,000 submissions, Flames was suggested 198 times. The franchise’s first owner chose the name Flames in memory of the burning of Atlanta by Union soldiers during the Civil War. By 1980, the franchise relocated to Calgary. Instead of changing the team’s name, the owners retained the team’s original mascot, but altered the logo from a fiery “A” to a “C.”
Washington Capitals (1972)
As the capital of the United States, Capitals was an obvious choice for Washington DC’s new NHL team, which would join the league in 1974.
New Jersey Devils (1974)
In 1982, the hockey Colorado Rockies moved to New Jersey. Shortly afterward, the new owners held a name contest. As a nod to the urban myth, The Legend of the Jersey Devil, the name Devils was selected to embody the mysterious and supernatural force said to reside in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey.
Edmonton Oilers (1979)
Edmonton’s team name first originated in 1972 when owner Bill Hunter wanted to pay homage to his junior team, the Oil Kings. As one of Alberta’s largest natural resources, Oilers was a fitting mascot that the team would retain upon its entry into the NHL in 1979.
Carolina Hurricanes (1979)
The Harford Whalers entered the NHL in 1979. By 1997, the team relocated to North Carolina. That same year, team owner Peter Karmanos Jr. chose the name Hurricanes after the 1996 Hurricanes Bertha and Fran.
Arizona Coyotes (1979)
Originally founded as the Winnipeg Jets in 1979, the current day Arizona Coyotes relocated to Phoenix in 1996. That same year, the owners held a name contest that drew more than 10,000 votes. Coyotes was chosen just ahead of second-favorite Scorpions, prompting the adoption of the title, Phoenix Coyotes. Roughly two months into the 2003-2004 season, the team would move once more this time just around the corner to Glendale. By 2014, the franchise name was changed to Arizona Coyotes. According to co-owner Anthony LeBlanc, the change was meant to “encourage more fans from all over the state, not just the valley, to embrace and support” the team.
Colorado Avalanche (1979)
In 1979, the Quebec Nordiques were founded and played for several seasons before relocating to Denver in 1995 where they would become the Colorado Avalanche. Before deciding on the name Avalanche, team owners also considered alternative options including, Cougars, Renegades, Wranglers, Rapids, Storm, and Black Bears.
San Jose Sharks (1991)
In 1990, San Jose acquired an NHL expansion franchise. Team owners George and Gordon Gund held a name contest that drew more than 5,000 entries. Of the submitted mascot suggestions, Blades was ultimately chosen over Breakers, Icebreakers, Condors, Sea Lions, and Fog. However, shortly afterward the name Blades became too closely associated with gang violence. As a result, management scrapped the original name in favor of Sharks, due to the influx of sharks dwelling off the coast of Northern California.
Ottawa Senators (1992)
As the oldest NHL franchise, the Ottawa Senators were first founded in 1883 prior to the establishment of the league. The original Senators won 11 Stanley Cups. Shortly after relocating to St. Louis, the Ottawa franchise would go bankrupt in the midst of The Great Depression. By 1991, the team was reborn. Its team name was maintained to manifest the franchise’s rich championship heritage.
Tampa Bay Lightning (1992)
Deemed the “lightning capital of North America”, Tampa Bay is notorious for more thunderstorms and lightning strikes than anywhere else in the country. During one of the area’s frequent thunderstorms in 1990, former franchise president Phil Esposito suggested the name Lightning, which would become finalized two years prior to the team’s first NHL game.
Florida Panthers (1993)
In order to bring attention to Florida’s critically endangered state animal, team owner Wayne Huizenga chose the name Panthers for his NHL franchise in 1993.
Anaheim Ducks (1993)
In 1992, the Walt Disney Co. was awarded an expansion franchise based in Southern California. Disney named the team after its recently released film titled, “The Mighty Ducks.” The Anaheim team skated under its original mascot for 12 seasons, sporting the colors jade, purple, white, and silver. In 2006, Disney sold the franchise to Henry and Susan Samuelis, who shortened the mascot to Ducks and changed the color scheme to metallic, orange, and black. According to the Ducks’ website, the new colors cultivated “an overall image that expressed excitement, speed, and a competitive edge.”
Nashville Predators (1998)
Prior to the Predators’ official establishment in 1998, Nashville’s new NHL team already had a designated logo in 1971 after a sabretooth tiger fossil was unburied beneath a building in downtown Nashville. With a logo in place, the team would decide on its official name years later when fans voted for Predators over other popular suggestions, Fury, Attack, and Ice Tigers.
Winnipeg Jets (1999)
In 1999, the Atlanta Thrashers were founded and played for several seasons leading up to the 2011 season, prior to which they were relocated to Winnipeg. The team was renamed Jets in honor of the original Winnipeg Jets, which played between 1979 and 1996 before moving to Phoenix to become the Arizona Coyotes. The original franchise owner, Ben Hatskin was a big fan of the NFL team, New York Jets, and named his new hockey team in their honor.
Columbus Blue Jackets (2000)
When Columbus was awarded an NHL franchise in 2000, a name contest was held that drew over 14,000 entries. In honor of Ohio’s Civil War lineage as the state that contributed the most soldiers to the Union army, “Blue Jackets” was ultimately chosen. The mascot references the same colors as the Union soldiers’ uniforms.
Minnesota Wild (2000)
Though the first Minnesota franchise to lay roots in the North Star State would depart for Dallas in 1993, an expansion franchise was quickly awarded to fill the void. By 2000, the Minnesota Wild entered the NHL. The team’s mascot was chosen in reference to the large territories of woodland and other wildlife habitats scattered across the region. Of the more than 13,000 submissions in the team’s name contest, Wild trumped Northern Lights, Blue Ox, Voyageurs, and White Bears. According to chief operating officer Matt Majka, “We liked the marketing potential of Wild, so we went with it.”
Las Vegas Golden Knights (2017)
The NHL’s newest franchise was officially inaugurated into the league in 2017. Team owner Bill Foley graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Foley drew inspiration from his service academy’s mascot, the Black Knights. Prior to the start of the 2017-2018 season, Foley announced that his team would be officially known as the Golden Knights. According to Foley, “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.”