Jack Knox: Seattle NHL team’s name fails community test

Jack Knox mugshot genericNHL hockey resumes next week, with all games clustered in just two cities, Toronto (“Centre of the Universe”) and Edmonton (“Gateway to Red Deer”), thanks to the pandemic.

That means all Stanley Cup playoff games will be held in Canada, something that hasn’t happened since 1925.

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The winners that year? Your Victoria Cougars. The last non-NHL team to win the cup, they beat the Montreal Canadiens at the Patrick Arena in Oak Bay.

Alas, after one more finals appearance in 1926 — they lost to the Montreal Maroons — their league folded. The Victoria roster moved to Michigan where, after a few years as the Detroit Cougars, they became the Detroit Falcons and, ultimately, Red Wings.

Which brings us to today’s topic: The Seattle Kraken is a stupid name.

Kraken was revealed Thursday as the moniker of the Seattle entry due to join the NHL in 2021-22. Great Harold Ballard’s ghost, could they have found a worse choice? That is, after “What is a glory hole?” this week’s most-Googled question might be “What is a kraken?”

FYI, a kraken is a mythical Scandinavian sea monster. It has nothing to do with Seattle or the Pacific Northwest, meaning that, right off the hop, the selection fails the first rule, which says a good team name reflects an aspect of its community. Think Edmonton Oilers, Brandon Wheat Kings, New Westminster Salmonbellies, Prince Rupert Rainmakers, the soon-to-appear Nanaimo Bars or the Atlanta Flames, the latter relating to the torching of the Georgia city in the Civil War. (With that in mind, can anyone explain why Calgary kept the Flames name after inheriting the franchise?)

Although Victoria’s current hockey team rejected my suggestions — A) the Thundering Bureaucrats, or B) the Weed Kings — they did give a nod to the capital’s namesake when deciding to go with Royals. (Also, it set up the potential for a scandalous-sounding “Royals beat Prince George” headline when William and Kate visited us in 2016.)

So, ideally, the owners of the new NHL squad to our southeast would have followed the regionally appropriate (not to mention alliterative) pattern set by soccer’s Seattle Sounders (named for Puget Sound), basketball’s Seattle SuperSonics (whose name came from the city’s aircraft industry) and football’s Seattle Seahawks (not a real bird, but close enough). But no, no, instead they had to come up with something that, within minutes of the announcement, had us awash in, er, wisekraks about fans known as Krakheads filling an arena known as the Krak Shack.

Not that the Seattle braintrust is alone in making unfortunate choices. Some have best-before dates. Toronto may love its Raptors, but the name seemed as outdated as Napster or parachute pants as soon as the Jurassic Park-inspired dinosaur craze faded. Same goes for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, who came into being a year after the Disney movie of the same name (the Mighty part disappeared after Disney sold the team).

In the 1990s, with gun crime sweeping the U.S. capital, basketball’s Washington Bullets morphed into the less-violent Wizards. Likewise, baseball’s Tampa Bay Devil Rays became the supposedly less-satanic Rays. (Grammarians still dream of the Maple Leafs becoming the Maple Leaves, but that’s almost as unlikely as Toronto winning the cup.)

Likewise, you don’t see many schools still splitting teams names along gender lines — the University of Georgia Lady Bulldogs, say. It has been 30 years since UVic ditched Vikings and Vikettes in favour of Vikes (which sounds like a sporty five-speed.)

Also, note the current — and long overdue — examination of Indigenous-themed names. Some are flat-out hurtful: How on earth could we have ever thought that Redskins was acceptable?

Other cases are less clear-cut. The Chicago Blackhawks argue their name honours an individual leader. Do Seattle’s historic hockey names, Thunderbirds and Totems, constitute cultural appropriation or regional pride? To stay on the side of the angels, the Edmonton Eskimos just decided to rebrand themselves. The owner of the Saanich Braves came to the same place without being shoved. The Atlanta Braves have not.

When it comes to catching up with the times, some teams need to get kraken.

jknox@timescolonist.com

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