Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Origins of NHL Nicknames (East)

Read about the history of NHL Nicknames in this instalment of Peculiar Side of Sports History.

Welcome back to Peculiar Side of Sports.  Every so often something in sports perplexes me, and I just hate not knowing something.  So, I do what any normal, sane sports fan does – I search ad nauseam for the answer by any means necessary.  The good news is that I take all my hard work and relay the results to you.

Today we take a look, albeit a very quick one, at the origins of each NHL team’s nickname, beginning with the Eastern Conference.  It’s not meant to be exhaustive  – why do that when you can just look on Wikipedia?  Instead, I wanted to give you a quick glance at how each team arrived at their nicknames.  Of course many of these you will undoubtedly be familiar with, others perhaps not.  If you’re a fan of sports history, check out my section of this site – “Sports History” (you can find the Western Conference there as well).  Without further ado, I give you today’s Peculiar Side of Sports…


Eastern Conference

Atlantic – NHL Nicknames

Detroit Red Wings – Detroit has had a team in the NHL since 1926, but the Red Wings came a decade after.  The Detroit team was first called the Cougars (after the defunct WCHL team of the same name), and was renamed the Falcons in 1930.  It wasn’t until 1933 that the “Red Wings” was coined.  The name actually comes from the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association which was nicknamed the “Winged Wheelers”, and owner James Norris, wanted to pay homage the Wheelers as he played for the club.  The Winged Wheelers derived their name and logo from the sport the MAAA was originally founded on—cycling.


Boston Bruins – The Bruins joined the NHL in 1924.  Owner Charlie Adams owned a supermarket chain called First National Stores, which had brown and yellow as its colours.  He applied those same colours to the Bruins’ first uniforms.  He eventually settled on Bruins, which is another name for a brown bear, as it fit very well with his already chosen colour scheme.

Buffalo Sabres – The Sabres joined the league in 1970, and needed a name different from Bisons, which was used by many teams in the area (though apparently it was fine to put prominently as a logo – go figure).  The Knox family, the team’s owners, had a name-the-team contest, and the winner was Sabres, as it is symbolizes both the offensive and defensive aspects of the sport.

Toronto Maple Leafs – A while back I wrote a detailed history of the Maple Leafs name, which you can access here.  The short version is that in 1927, Conn Smythe, a military man, prevented a team move to Philadelphia and re-named the Toronto team from the St. Pats to the Maple Leafs after the fighting regiment, Maple Leaf Regiment.

Ottawa Senators  – Just like the Capitals, they play in their nation’s capital.  Yawn.  In all fairness the Senators precluded many others, and there are records of the original franchise using it as far back as 1901.  Though the team was often referred to as Senators, it wasn’t officially adopted until about 30 years later.

Montreal Canadiens – I took some time to do an in-depth look at the history of the Montreal Canadiens’ logo, which you can access here.  As you can expect, Canadiens literally means “Canadians”, paying homage to the team’s homeland.  Do check out the in-depth article though!

Tampa Bay Lightning – This might be obvious to many, but so you know, Tampa Bay is not actually a city.  Instead it’s the area that encompasses Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Bradenton.  Tampa Bay is considered the “lightning capital of the world”, hence, Tampa Bay Lightning.  Former president Phil Esposito has said he named the team following one particularly bad storm.  The team began play in 1992.

Florida Panthers – The Florida Panthers began play in 1993, and originally played homes games out of Miami.  They now play out of Sunrise, Florida. The team was named the panthers after the large cat that is considered an endangered species in the Everglades.


Metropolitan – NHL Nicknames

New York Rangers – One of the Original Six NHL teams, the Rangers began play in 1926.  Actually, the Rangers became a team after the New York Amerks (defunct, obviously) popularity required a rival.  The team was owned by George Lewis Rickard, whose nickname was “Tex”.  So, the team took to the owner’s nickname and became “Tex’s Rangers”, then just “Rangers”.

New York Islanders – The Islanders became a team in 1972 partially as a way for the NHL to keep the WHA out of Nassau Colisseum and away from their turf.  Apparently the team was going to be called the Long Island Ducks (a second Ducks team would be fantastic) after the EHL team, but it was changed to the Islanders, a nod to playing on Long Island.

Washington Capitals – Okay, so yeah, the Capitals are so named because they play in Washington.  That’s all I got for ya.  Oh, the team began play in 1974.

Pittsburgh Penguins – The Pens were awarded a franchise in 1966 to begin play in 1967 for a measly $2.5million fee.  The team would begin play in Civic Arena, which of course from all appearances looked like a gigantic igloo, and was after nicknamed “The Igloo”.  So it was only natural to have “Penguins” (which live in Antarctica) play in “The Igloo” (a traditional inuit shelter from Northern Canada and Alaska).

New Jersey Devils – The Devils began as Scouts (KC), then were Rockies (Colorado), before setting in 1982 in the beautiful, scenic East Rutherford, then the picturesque Newark, New Jersey.  If you thought Lucifer or Satan (the Prince of Darkness, not Miroslav – but whatever) had anything to do with the name, you’d be wrong. The name came from the legend of a Jersey Devil, a mythological creature said to have haunted the woods of New Jersey.  Rumors that locals call the beast,”Snooki” could not be confirmed.

Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers joined the NHL as a part of the 1967 expansion.  The team’s name began as a name-that-team contest.  The owner told the fans the team would be orange because he considered that a “hot colour” (keep in mind, there was some bad acid going around in the late 60s- not implying, just saying) and that it was a tribute to his alma mater, the U of Texas.  He also added black to the uniform to pay homage to Phili’s former team, the Quakers.  After 11,000 ballots, owner Ed Snider chose his sister’s suggestion, the Flyers.

Carolina Hurricanes – The Hurricanes’ history is longer than you might think.  The team was relocated from the old Hartford Whalers in 1997.  Before that, the team was the New England Whalers of the WHA, which existed from 1971-1979 when they moved to Hartford.  Owner Peter Karmanos choose the name following the move from Hartford.

Columbus Blue Jackets – If you held a gun to my head (please, don’t) I would have said something stupid like, “The Blue Jackets were named after some insect”.  Truth be told, they were named after a much more historically significant event.  The first team from Ohio since the long dead Cleveland Barons, Columbus began play in 2000 under the name Blue Jackets to recognize the familiar blue representative of the North during the American Civil War.

photo credit: dougbutchy via photopin cc


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