The Origins of All 32 NHL Team Names

From the New York Rangers to the Seattle Kraken, here’s how the teams in the National Hockey League came by their monikers.
Matty Beniers of the Seattle Kraken, Alexis Lafreniere of the New York Rangers, and Travis Konecny of the Philadelphia Flyers.
Matty Beniers of the Seattle Kraken, Alexis Lafreniere of the New York Rangers, and Travis Konecny of the Philadelphia Flyers. / Steph Chambers/Getty Images (Beniers), Bruce Bennett/Getty Images (Lafreniere), Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images (Konecny)

Ever wonder what a Canuck is? How about a Blue Jacket? Here's a breakdown of how the league’s 32 teams got their names.

1. New York Rangers

Mika Zibanejad
Tampa Bay Lightning v New York Rangers - Game Two / Sarah Stier/GettyImages

In 1925, the New York Americans joined the National Hockey League and played their home games at the old Madison Square Garden. Tex Rickard, the boxing promoter and ex-gold prospector who built and owned the arena, decided he wanted his own NHL team, which he was awarded in 1926. Rickard’s team was immediately dubbed “Tex’s Rangers” as a pun referencing the paramilitary force founded in Texas during the 1830s. The Americans folded in 1942, while Tex’s Rangers remain.

2. New Jersey Devils

Jack Hughes, Luke Hughes
Carolina Hurricanes v New Jersey Devils - Game Three / Elsa/GettyImages

Given that New Jersey has never been known for its mountains, the team needed a new nickname after the Colorado Rockies relocated to the Garden State in 1982. The New Jersey Sports and Exhibition Authority sponsored a statewide newspaper contest to determine the new nickname and some of the other finalists included Americans, Blades, Coastals, Colonials, Gulls, Jaguars, Meadowlanders, and Meadowlarks. While some fans objected to the winning selection on religious grounds—one threatened the life of a reporter who was covering the search—the Devil has an entirely non-religious folk history in New Jersey. According to legend, a harmless creature known as the Leeds Devil, or the Jersey Devil, roamed the Pine Barrens in the southern part of the state from 1887 until 1938.

3. New York Islanders

Bo Horvat, Brock Nelson, Mathew Barzal
New York Islanders v Carolina Hurricanes - Game Five / Grant Halverson/GettyImages

When New York’s expansion Major League Baseball franchise held a name-the-team contest in 1961, Islanders finished third behind Mets and Empires. Eleven years later, Islanders was selected as the nickname for New York’s new hockey team, which plays its home games on Long Island.

4. Philadelphia Flyers

Cam Atkinson
Vancouver Canucks v Philadelphia Flyers / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

The team sponsored a name-the-team contest after Ed Snider, then-vice president of the Philadelphia Eagles, brought hockey back to the City of Brotherly Love in 1966. Snider’s sister, Phyllis, reportedly suggested the name Flyers, which sounds good when paired with Philadelphia but doesn’t have any real meaning.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins

Sidney Crosby, Marcus Pettersson
Pittsburgh Penguins v Philadelphia Flyers / Mitchell Leff/GettyImages

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sponsored a name-the-team contest, but Carol McGregor, the wife of one of the franchise’s part owners, Jack McGregor, was the one responsible for the name. In his book, Pittsburgh Penguins: The Official History of the First 30 Years, Bob Grove described how Carol McGregor came up with the name. “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.” More than 700 of the 26,000 contest entries were for Penguins.

6. Boston Bruins

Jake Debrusk
Florida Panthers v Boston Bruins - Game Four / Rich Gagnon/GettyImages

When grocery store tycoon Charles Adams brought a team to Boston, he hired former hockey great Art Ross to serve as his general manager. Adams tasked Ross with coming up with a nickname, with one of the requirements being that the team’s colors would be the same as his grocery store chain’s: brown and yellow (those colors were eventually changed to black and gold). Ross decided on Bruins.

7. Buffalo Sabres

Casey Mittelstadt
Buffalo Sabres v Philadelphia Flyers / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

When Buffalo entered the league in 1970, owners Seymour Knox III and Northrup Knox wanted a unique name for their new team. The brothers sponsored a name-the-team contest and decided on Sabres, with a buffalo featured prominently in the team’s logo.

8. Montreal Canadiens

Cole Caufield, Arber Xhekaj, Chris Wideman, Sean Monahan
Dallas Stars v Montreal Canadiens / Minas Panagiotakis/GettyImages

In 1909, John Ambrose O’Brien created the Club de Hockey Canadien. Ambrose wanted his team, a charter member of the National Hockey Association, to appeal to Montreal’s francophone population and he hoped to drum up a rivalry with the city’s established team, the Wanderers. The Canadiens are often referred to as “The Habs” or “Les Habs,” an abbreviation of Les Habitants, the name for the early settlers of New France.

9. Ottawa Senators

Anton Forsberg
Washington Capitals v Ottawa Senators / Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photo/GettyImages

The original Ottawa Senators, founded in 1883, won 11 Stanley Cups. When an NHL team returned to Ottawa in 1992 after a nearly 60-year hiatus, the name, a reference to Ottawa’s status as Canada’s capital city, was an obvious choice.

10. Toronto Maple Leafs

Joel Edmundson, William Nylander
Boston Bruins v Toronto Maple Leafs - Game Six / Claus Andersen/GettyImages

Conn Smythe purchased Toronto’s hockey team in 1927 and one of his first orders of business was renaming the team. The franchise that began play as the Arenas in 1917 changed its nickname to St. Patricks in 1919 to attract Toronto’s Irish population. Smythe eventually decided on Maple Leafs, for a couple possible reasons. Smythe fought in the Maple Leaf Regiment during World War I, and there was a former Toronto hockey team called “the East Maple Leaves.”

11. Winnipeg Jets

Mark Scheifele, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Josh Morrissey
Winnipeg Jets v Seattle Kraken / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

The Winnipeg Jets, formed in late 1971, got their moniker from a team of the same name that played in Canada’s Western Hockey League. The current franchise is actually the second incarnation; the first relocated to Phoenix, Arizona, in 1996 and became the Phoenix Coyotes. The current franchise was originally called the “Atlanta Thrashers”—named by Ted Turner after Georgia’s state bird, the brown thrasher—before it was sold to a Canadian group, True North Sports & Entertainment, in 2011, and relocated.

12. Carolina Hurricanes

Justin Williams
Edmonton Oilers v Carolina Hurricanes: Game 7 / Jim McIsaac/GettyImages

After the Hartford Whalers moved to Raleigh in 1997, new owner Peter Karmanos, Jr. named his team after the devastating storms that regularly ravage the region.

13. Florida Panthers

Sam Reinhart
Toronto Maple Leafs v Florida Panthers - Game Three / Joel Auerbach/GettyImages

Had Tampa Bay been awarded a baseball team in the early ’90s, they likely would have been called the “Florida Panthers,” a reference to the endangered species of the same name. Instead, the name was adopted by Florida’s second NHL team. When Panthers president Bill Torrey revealed the name, he told reporters: “A panther, for your information, is the quickest striking of all cats. Hopefully, that’s how we will be on the ice.”

14. Tampa Bay Lightning

Andrei Vasilevskiy
Toronto Maple Leafs v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Four / Mike Ehrmann/GettyImages

In 1990, a thunderstorm served as inspiration for then-president of the Tampa Bay Hockey Group Phil Esposito’s decision to name his team the Lightning. Esposito said that, in addition to being a natural characteristic of the Tampa Bay area, Lightning expressed the fast action of a hockey game.

15. Washington Capitals

T.J. Oshie
St Louis Blues v Washington Capitals / Patrick Smith/GettyImages

Washington owner Abe Pollin decided on the perfectly apt name Capitals after staging a name-the-team contest.

16. Chicago Blackhawks

Max Domi
Calgary Flames v Chicago Blackhawks / Michael Reaves/GettyImages

World War I veteran and coffee tycoon Frederic McLaughlin was Chicago’s owner when it entered the NHL in 1926. McLaughlin named the team after the 86th Infantry Division in which he served. The Black Hawk Division was named after Chief Black Hawk of the Sauk American Indian tribe, who fought the Illinois militia in 1832. The name was officially changed from Black Hawks to Blackhawks in 1986.

17. Columbus Blue Jackets

Brandon Dubinsky
Pittsburgh Penguins v Columbus Blue Jackets - Game Four / Kirk Irwin/GettyImages

Blue Jackets was the winning entry in a name-the-team contest; it’s a nod to the fact that many residents of Ohio served in the Civil War.

18. Detroit Red Wings

Dylan Larkin, Collin Delia
Detroit Red Wings v Vancouver Canucks / Derek Cain/GettyImages

After purchasing the Detroit Falcons in 1932, James Norris renamed the team after the Winged Wheelers, the name of the Montreal Hockey Club for which he once played. Norris chose a winged wheel as the team’s logo, a reference to Detroit’s growing reputation as the heart of the automobile industry.

19. Nashville Predators

Carolina Hurricanes v Nashville Predators - Game Three
Carolina Hurricanes v Nashville Predators - Game Three / Andy Lyons/GettyImages

A vote by the fans helped determine Nashville’s name, a reference to the saber-toothed tiger remains that were discovered during an excavation in the city in 1971.

20. St. Louis Blues

Keith Tkachuk
Pittsburgh Penguins v St. Louis Blues / Elsa/GettyImages

Owner Sid Saloman Jr. selected the name Blues in 1967 after W.C. Handy’s song, “St. Louis Blues.” Mercury and Apollo were two of the other nicknames that were considered.

21. Calgary Flames

Yegor Sharangovich
Calgary Flames v Arizona Coyotes / Christian Petersen/GettyImages

The Flames played in Atlanta from 1972 until 1980, and their name was a reference to the burning of Atlanta by General William T. Sherman during the Civil War. While the team moved, the name remained.

22. Colorado Avalanche

Nazem Kadri
Edmonton Oilers v Colorado Avalanche - Game Two / Justin Edmonds/GettyImages

Rockies, the nickname for Colorado’s hockey team that left for New Jersey in 1982, had been adopted by Denver’s baseball team by the time the Quebec Nordiques left Canada for the Front Range in 1995. Management originally wanted to name the team Extreme, but received all sorts of negative feedback, and justifiably so. Avalanche eventually beat out suggested names like Black Bears, Outlaws, Storm, Wranglers, Renegades, Rapids, and Cougars.

23. Edmonton Oilers

Wayne Gretzky
Oilers v Kings / Mike Powell/GettyImages

Edmonton, the capital of Alberta, is also the oil capital of Canada. Edmonton began play in 1972 in the World Hockey Association and retained the name Oilers when it joined the NHL in 1979.

24. Minnesota Wild

Kim Johnsson
Phoenix Coyotes v Minnesota Wild / Scott A. Schneider/GettyImages

In 1998, Wild was chosen from a field of six finalists, which also included Blue Ox, Northern Lights, Voyageurs, White Bears, and Freeze. (Voyageurs were the working-class employees of fur trading companies in the region during the 1700s.)

25. Vancouver Canucks

Elias Lindholm
Vancouver Canucks v Edmonton Oilers - Game Three / Codie McLachlan/GettyImages

Johnny Canuck, who originally appeared as a Canadian political cartoon character in 1869, was reinvented as a comic book action hero who fought Adolf Hitler, among other villains, during World War II. Canuck is also slang for Canadianaccording to Britannica, it’s “probably of 19th-century American origin and that at first may have been pejorative but ultimately was embraced with pride by Canadians.”

26. Dallas Stars

Roope Hintz, Marc-Andre Fleury
Minnesota Wild v Dallas Stars - Game Two / Tom Pennington/GettyImages

When the Minnesota North Stars, whose name was decided by a fan contest, moved to Texas in 1993, they ditched the North and didn’t feel compelled to replace it with South or Lone.

27. Los Angeles Kings

Sean Durzi
Edmonton Oilers v Los Angeles Kings - Game Six / Harry How/GettyImages

The late Jack Kent Cooke, who owned the Los Angeles Lakers and later the Washington football team, settled on Kings as the hockey team name from entries submitted in a fan contest when the team joined the league in the 1960s. The Los Angeles Monarchs had played in the Pacific Coast Hockey League during the 1930s, and Cooke’s new team adopted the same royal color scheme as the Lakers.

28. Anaheim Ducks

Sergei Fedorov
Ducks v Canucks / Jeff Vinnick/GettyImages

Anaheim joined the NHL in 1993 and its team was known as the Mighty Ducks, after the wildly popular Disney movie and cross-marketing vehicle of the same name. The name was changed to Ducks and the logo was changed in 2005 after Disney sold the team.

29. Arizona Coyotes

Lawson Crouse, Nick Bjugstad
Colorado Avalanche v Arizona Coyotes / Zac BonDurant/GettyImages

The Winnipeg Jets moved to Phoenix in 1996 and Coyotes was the winner in a name-the-team contest that attracted more than 10,000 entries. Scorpions was the runner-up. This franchise will soon get a new moniker—it was recently sold to Utah Jazz owners Ryan and Ashley Smith and will relocate to Salt Lake City.

30. San Jose Sharks

Justin Bailey, Jacob MacDonald, Calen Addison
San Jose Sharks v New Jersey Devils / Elsa/GettyImages

Sharks was chosen from 2300 entries in San Jose’s name-the-team contest. The other finalists included Rubber Puckies, Screaming Squids, Salty Dogs, and Blades. When Sharks was chosen, seven shark species made their home in a stretch of the Pacific Ocean off the California coast called “The Red Triangle.”

31. Vegas Golden Knights

Mark Stone
Dallas Stars v Vegas Golden Knights - Game One / Ethan Miller/GettyImages

The Las Vegas Golden Knights—an expansion team that played its first season in 2018—was so named because, according to franchise owner Bill Foley, he “wanted to create a logo and a name that was powerful, that would epitomize the warrior class. The knights are the epitome of the warrior class, the top of the line in terms of defending the realm, defending the unprotected. This is all part of the culture we want to create with the hockey team.” He apparently toyed with names like Silver Knights and Desert Knights before opting to include golden in the team’s moniker.

32. Seattle Kraken

Adam Larsson, Tye Kartye, Jordan Eberle, Vince Dunn
Dallas Stars v Seattle Kraken - Game Six / Steph Chambers/GettyImages

The NHL’s newest team—which joined the league in 2021—looked at more than 1200 names before going with the sea monster of sailors’ nightmares. Andy Jassy, CEO of Amazon Web Services and part-owner of the team, told ESPN in 2020, “There are a lot of obvious connections to Seattle—part because of our maritime history, part of because we have so much water around us—but there is longtime folklore in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest of this mystical Kraken creature that lives just below the surface of the sea, which really captivated people for many years.”

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A version of this story ran in 2009; it has been updated for 2024.