NHL: Power Ranking the 20 Defunct Team Nicknames in League History
Last summer’s revival of the Winnipeg Jets meant retiring one NHL team nickname, that being the Atlanta Thrashers, for the sake of exhuming another one.
In turn, the exhibit of defunct nicknames has maintained its membership of 20, the same number it has retained for 15 years and counting.
While you could easily make a whole new league out of the discarded mascots, that would not be wholly advisable. A fair sprinkling of them, especially some from before and during the NHL’s formative years, are gone for the better.
Others, though, ought not to raise much objection or ridicule if they ever make like the Jets and one day return to hockey’s top competitive circuit. Although some of the better choices would be virtually impossible to revive due to their current usage by neighboring franchises in other sports.
The worth of each defunct NHL nickname is ranked as follows.
20. Toronto Arenas
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The name of Toronto’s NHL entrant for the league’s first two seasons was merely a synonym for the rink they played in. What more needs to be explained?
A moniker like that may have been good for its time, but sounds pathetic to the modern ear.
19. Montreal Maroons
Maybe if this team lasted for the long run, much the same way baseball’s Cincinnati Reds have, this plural color nickname would sound less peculiar.
Instead, the Maroons folded in 1938 after 14 years of operation.
18. Philadelphia Quakers
You can’t blame the operators of Philadelphia’s first NHL franchise for trying to offer a historical nod to its host city and state. Nonetheless, this isn’t exactly the most enthralling choice for a team nickname even for its time, which was a single season in 1930-31.
Could you imagine if this franchise had lasted long enough to be represented by the Broad Street Bullies?
17. Toronto St. Pats
Toronto’s team answered to this name from 1919 to 1927, the years that bridged the Arenas and Maple Leafs.
The “St. Patricks” nickname is really not all that different than the present-day major-junior teams carrying such long-held names as the Regina Pats and Peterborough Petes. But whereas those seem to be accepted with no questions asked just because they have been there so long, the fact that “St. Pats” has been idle for 85 years exploits its mediocrity.
16. Montreal Wanderers
Ostensibly named in recognition of the travel, or “wandering,” required in the quest for the coveted Stanley Cup during the trophy’s multi-league years, the Wanderers transferred from the National Hockey Association to the newfangled NHL for the start of the 1917-18 season.
They would last all of six games in that league before the arena they shared with the Canadiens burned down. The Habs found refuge and continued to foster their now-revered tradition, but the Wanderers closed up shop.
15. Oakland Seals
14. Brooklyn/New York Americans
Nothing wrong with patriotism by any means, although given that New York City already had baseball’s Yankees, the element of redundancy here is hard to overlook.
Furthermore, it would be awkward reinstating this team name anywhere in the NHL today, given the long-tenured Rochester Americans, who serve as the Buffalo Sabres’ AHL affiliate.
Come what may, this team would last 17 years, disbanding after the 1941-42 season.
13. Quebec Nordiques
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12. Minnesota North Stars
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Hey, “Gophers” was already taken by the state university’s athletic program and “Lakers” probably would have been an insensitive choice given that Minneapolis had lost its NBA team of that exact name less than a decade before NHL expansion.
What really boggles the mind is, when this franchise transferred to Dallas, why did it alter the name to simply the “Stars” when it could have paid more expressed homage to its new state and re-branded itself the “Texas Lone Stars"?
11. Kansas City Scouts
The Scouts joined the Washington Capitals as the NHL’s other expansion franchise in 1974 and joined them as a team sharing a name with a landmark in the host city.
For Washington, besides being in the national capital and having the slightly differently spelled Capitol building in the area, the original home arena was the Capital Center.
In Kansas City, the nickname and emblem were a direct nod to the nearby statue known as “The Scout.”
10. Cleveland Barons
The NHL incarnation of the Cleveland Barons would not be the first or the last hockey team of that name. It was preceded by a tradition-laden AHL team and later succeeded by a Junior A team and later another AHL franchise.
If the logos of the AHL versions are any indication, the specific context of “Barons” was supposed to be as in upper-class tycoons. Not exactly the best nickname at the start, but by the time Cleveland was given the opportunity to try major league hockey, it had nothing to lose reviving the name of its nine-time Calder Cup champion predecessor.
9. Quebec Bulldogs
One of the few domesticated animals aggressive enough to function as a credible mascot, the bulldog had one of its earliest turns in the athletic spotlight courtesy of Quebec City’s first NHL franchise.
8. Colorado Rockies
As far as inanimate objects go, there are not many that can rival natural disasters as sports team nicknames that connote competitive power.
This would be an exception, and anybody who has merely traveled to the Rocky Mountains and had to fight through the effects of thin air would understand why. Those who have tried to physically surmount any major mountain would know even better.
Naturally, this temporarily idled nickname has since been snagged by Denver’s Major League Baseball entrant, but the present-day Avalanche have allowed pro hockey to lend a new nod to the mighty mountains of Colorado.
7. Hartford Whalers
The fact that this franchise originally went by the “New England” dateline as a member of the World Hockey Association underscores its nickname’s nod to a well-known element of the region’s history. A moderate familiarity with Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick can help one understand that aspect.
Furthermore, while the rigors and dangers of the two professions are not nearly on the same scale, you could metaphorically liken taking on big competition with an eye on a revered trophy to pursuing a great marine giant, if you must.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
For a brief period, from 1925 to 1930, the Steel City’s hockey team shared a moniker with the neighboring baseball team. A strange concept by today’s standards, but it would work just fine if it were to be used in any other city.
(Note: Portland, Me. does have an AHL franchise of this name, but one not nearly as tenured or tradition-laden as the Rochester Americans.)
When it comes to oceangoing men, “Pirates” one-ups “Whalers” as a nickname, if only for the visions of toughness and aggressively pursuing riches the same way a sports team is expected to pursue victory on the scoreboard.
5. Detroit Falcons
Detroit’s 1932 adoption of the nickname “Red Wings” stemmed from new owner James Norris’ desire to pay homage to his former Montreal amateur team, the Winged Wheelers. The logo, and affectionate secondary name for the team, was and still is a perfect way to appeal to the fanbase of the Motor City.
Still, transitioning directly from “Falcons” was a bit of a downgrade when you consider the discrepancy in size, strength and intimidation between the two birds in question.
4. St. Louis Eagles
The short-lived Eagles did what the Brooklyn/New York franchise should have done if it wanted a more original patriotic twist on the major sports landscape: Use an American national emblem as the nickname and logo.
3. Detroit Cougars
Whereas the aforementioned New York Americans were easy to perceive as lazily selecting a direct synonym for the local American League baseball nickname, Detroit had quite the diverse big cat theme going for a while.
Baseball had the Tigers, football would soon have the Lions and, from 1926 to 1930, hockey had the Cougars.
One has to wonder how much different the NHL would look if this name had lasted. In the animal kingdom, “cougar” has a tendency to be taken as a synonym for “panther,” so only the hockey gods know what Florida’s franchise would have been dubbed.
What is certain is that this was easily the most intimidating name a Detroit NHL franchise has ever had.
2. Atlanta Thrashers
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If the Detroit Cougars stuck around long enough to coexist with the Lions and Tigers, that city could have been matched by Atlanta’s bird-of-prey motif between 1999 and 2011 with football’s Falcons, basketball’s Hawks and hockey’s Thrashers.
Well, okay, the depiction of a carnivorous thrasher is not quite zoologically accurate. In reality, the thrasher is not much unlike your standard songbird.
Nonetheless, it is also Georgia’s state bird and its name sounds aggressive enough. Accordingly, Atlanta’s most recent NHL team should incur no penalty for stretching the truth.
Instead, it should draw commendation for keeping with the local sports trend and putting the NFL and NBA teams to shame in the way of creativity, originality and acknowledgment of a state symbol.
1. Hamilton Tigers
Being the biggest of the big cats, the tiger is one of the top-echelon elites for those seeking a mascot that exhibits animal toughness. In the NHL’s history, Hamilton is right up there with the Nashville Predators (saber-toothed tiger), Boston Bruins and Minnesota Wild (bears), San Jose Sharks and Vancouver Canucks (killer whale) in that department.