Saltwater fish names have proved hugely popular with local hockey fans when it comes to what to call our future NHL team. But don't rule out traditional favorites like Metropolitans, Totems and Thunderbirds, or the potential pitfalls that may come with them.

Share story

So, let’s pick a name for the National Hockey League franchise expected to land in the Puget Sound area these next few months.

The team might as well splash down in the Sound itself, as potential names floated my way by fans last week included Orcas, Killer Whales, Killer Orcas, Sea Lions, Sockeyes, Steelheads, SeaDogs and Seawolves. Plenty of sea life, which isn’t surprising given geography and the fact our century-old Stanley Cup champion team’s name, Metropolitans, has since been usurped by New York’s second-most-famous baseball squad.

What, you thought this would be easy? It isn’t.

Picking the Mighty Ducks name in Anaheim to ride the marketing coattails of a Disney movie was easy. Now, our very own Hollywood type, Seattle NHL co-owner and movie producer legend Jerry Bruckheimer, along with team managing partner David Bonderman, must bankroll an expansion launch without a feature film to borrow liberally off of.

Most Read Sports Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

Actually, some Seattle fans want Bruckheimer to borrow from a fictional sea creature in his Pirates of the Caribbean movies and name his team the “Seattle Kraken.” Unfortunately, that lends itself to disparaging jokes such as: “Kraken under pressure?’’

I can’t take credit for that jab, which came from reader Joshua Krenz, who suggested “Kraken” – despite growing cult popularity among local hockey fans – is too gimmicky.

Krenz prefers “Seattle Sockeye’’ – that’s singular on the salmon — because it passes the local identity test, lends itself to two-syllable name chants like “Let’s go Sock-eye!’’ and is “a fierce competitor who battles upstream, encountering bears, dams, and other Sockeye just to mate and die.’’

He adds: “It’s a great double entendre. Sockeye. Sock. Eye. You can already picture the team logo, a fighting hellfish with a puffy shiner glaring at the enemy. ‘I see you,’ the Sockeye says, ‘and you’re no grizzly.’ ’’

Whether it’s ultimately “Sockeye” or “Sockeyes,” there’s an unmistakable fan penchant for saltwater fish.

The local Seattle Sin Bin hockey website held a weekslong, bracket-style, fan-vote contest between 32 potential names in which the saltwater trout “Steelheads’’ prevailed over a “Thunderbirds’’ moniker already used by our Kent-based junior hockey team. Of 1,531 final-round votes, Steelheads garnered 52 percent. Totems, Emeralds, Kraken, Sockeyes, Wolves and Sasquatch all made the Elite Eight round.

Otto Rogers, who runs the site with his namesake, Paul Rogers, said the most heated hockey discussions he has heard lately involve the future team’s name.

“I think people want to be involved somehow in the team,’’ Rogers said. “We’re two years away from having the team play, so what can we really talk about? The one thing we can talk about is the team name and the team colors.’’

Rogers won’t rule out traditional Seattle hockey names like Metropolitans, Totems and Thunderbirds eventually getting chosen. He feels Metropolitans – upended by Emeralds in his contest’s Sweet Sixteen — would have won outright had fans merely picked one name off a list rather than voting in weekly elimination rounds.

Indeed, a tweet I put out last week seeking fan input got Metropolitans and Totems as popular non-fish suggestions. Cascades, Emeralds and Sasquatch also received nods, while “Seattle Freeze” garnered sarcastic mentions.

NHL Seattle president Tod Leiweke told me last week his group “will for sure engage fans and our (season-ticket) depositors’’ on the name, but likely not until the league awards a franchise. Bonderman has already said any fan input won’t include a name-the-team contest.

And that’s not necessarily bad, with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.

Over in England, the National Environment Research Council two years ago let the public vote on the name of a new polar-research vessel.

A local radio personality suggested “Boaty McBoatface’’ and some 124,000 online voters agreed, picking it by a 4-to-1 margin. The council promptly ignored the vote and went with RSS Sir David Attenborough instead, causing quite the uproar.

Not that public naming always flops. Our Major League Soccer team almost wasn’t the Sounders until team official Gary Wright suggested a write-in vote by fans. The league, leery of a Sounders name linked to the defunct North American Soccer League, had approved only “Seattle Alliance,’’ “Seattle Republic” and “Seattle FC’’ on a fan-voting shortlist.

But the write-in was allowed and fans overwhelmingly submitted “Sounders” which, today, seems the logical choice.

Conversely, Vegas Golden Knights owner Bill Foley got in hot water by unilaterally picking that name. West Point graduate Foley originally wanted “Black Knights,’’ like Army calls its athletic teams.

But the Army resisted, so Foley went with “Golden Knights” instead. That still wasn’t good enough for the Army, which has a parachute team with that name and filed notice of opposition with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The dispute was only settled three weeks ago, with both sides working out a “coexistence agreement’’ on how each uses the name.

John Barr, who runs the NHL to Seattle fan website, a go-to hockey voice that has lobbied years for a team, wonders whether similar “name-appropriation’’ issues would rule out Thunderbirds or Steelheads here. Barr notes an ECHL team in Idaho and an Ontario Hockey League squad in Mississauga, Ontario, both are called Steelheads.

Reviving the Totems name might prove sensitive with Native American groups, he adds. For those reasons, Barr understands why a fan vote wouldn’t work.

“It’s much more complex than a simple vote.’’

Barr cites Metropolitans, Totems, Steelheads and – sigh – Kraken as names he’s heard fans discuss most. But he also feels we’re jumping the gun.

“I’ve never engaged in the name game,’’ Barr said. “I think there’s a lot to be done between now and then. And maybe I don’t want to jinx it or something.’’

Given the years spent approving an arena project here, one can hardly fault his reticence. When a team finally does show up, for many, the “Seattle Process’’ might prove the most fitting name of all.