By Damien CoxContributing Columnist
Thu., July 23, 2020timer5 min. read
The task was actually relatively straightforward and simple.
Just don’t insult anyone.
Don’t turn any ethnic group into a cartoon on the front of your jersey, don’t use an obvious racial slur, don’t insult Indigenous people.
In the current nickname-cleansing climate, that’s all Seattle’s new NHL team had to do.
Well, mission accomplished.
Kraken. We can work with that. It’s imaginative and fun and, gosh, isn’t that all a team nickname needs to be? Taking that general approach has worked out extremely well for the Toronto Raptors. And the Nashville Predators. Even the Ottawa Redblacks.
Just a colourful nickname that fits on a coffee mug and a baseball cap, helps creative people generate some good graphics and videos for the game ops folks and produces a good cheer in support of the home team. In a perfect world, someone comes up with a “We The North” campaign that cements the name to the city.
This shouldn’t be nuclear physics, folks.
That the Seattle Kraken have arrived at the same time we are gratefully waving farewell to the Redskins and Eskimos, and hopefully soon to the Indians, Braves, Chiefs and Blackhawks, is interesting but doesn’t exactly represent an inflection point in sports history.
After all, teams stopped using these insulting nicknames a long, long time ago. It’s just taken a long, long time to get rid of them, and the process is ongoing. The Redmen are gone, the Fighting Sioux are gone, but there’s still more work to do.
Whether the Kraken nickname actually has anything at all to do with the city of Seattle — it doesn’t — no longer matters. Gone are the days when a team’s nickname needs to have any meaningful connection to the city, province, state or country in which the team plays. So we have Utah and the Jazz, the Dodgers of Los Angeles, Carolina’s Hurricanes and the Vegas Golden Knights.
It’s really about an edgy nickname and an exciting logo a team can sell, nothing more. It’s about money. You can bet if Toronto was to get a second crack at naming the city’s hockey team it would come up with something far more interesting (and grammatically correct) than Maple Leafs. Ottawa could have done a lot better than the scholarly Senators. Washington sure went decidedly neutral with Nationals. Vancouver only wishes it could dump Canucks. One understands why Minnesota named its baseball team the Twins, but it doesn’t exactly create a plethora of creative merchandising possibilities.
Webster University, based in St. Louis, took the nickname process to the furthest limits. The school just invented its own. The Gorloks. Then came up with an imaginary creature and logo. According to the school, a gorlok has “the paws of a speeding cheetah, the horns of a fierce buffalo and the face of a dependable Saint Bernard.”
So Seattle just had to land somewhere between Senators and Gorloks. And did.
A team’s nickname is significant, but hardly crucial. The truly important elements for a successful franchise are market, ownership and management. Having a strong team immediately, like the Golden Knights, sure helps, and the expectation is that the NHL has learned from that experience and will try to provide Kraken GM Ron Francis with the tools to be competitive right out of the gate.
The flat salary cap created by the coronavirus crisis should create more personnel opportunities for Francis if the expansion draft takes place as scheduled next June. Having an immediate rival up the highway in Vancouver should also be a boon to the new franchise.
Having a cool nickname, however, isn’t going to solve Seattle’s biggest problem. The Kraken will be entering the NHL at the worse possible time for any new team in league history, having paid a supercharged $650 million (U.S.) for the privilege of joining an operation that, for the conceivable future, can’t open its doors to paying customers.
The United States is setting daily records for COVID-19, and The Seattle Times reported that the state of Washington is “on the path to runaway transmission rates.” In other words, the Kraken will be trying to do business for months in one of the world’s pandemic hot spots.
The coolest nickname in the universe won’t fix that.
Seattle has only 14 months before its first game, unless, of course, the 2019-20 NHL schedule pushes the 2020-21 season deep into the middle of next year, and doesn’t allow the 2021-22 season to begin until God knows when.
That’s the thing about this virus. It pushes sports to do things sports don’t want to do. COVID-19 has already proven it can upend even the most durable and powerful sports traditions. It wiped out Wimbledon, made the Blue Jays homeless, delayed The Masters, forced the designated hitter on the National League, brought the Canadian Football League to its knees and created chaos for the National Football League.
Seattle can only guess at this point what the virus will do to the Kraken. Who can say when Climate Pledge Arena — The Krak House? — will be legally able to host a sold-out audience? The Kraken could start play with an $81-million payroll and zero ticket revenue. It could be a more challenging beginning than Ottawa playing out of the Civic Centre or the Hurricanes playing before family and friends in Greensboro.
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The NHL has been talking about a team in the U.S. Pacific Northwest for three decades, and this makes it seem real. A nickname puts Seattle in the minds of NHL fans more today than before. You can expect to see that sharp logo to start showing up on T-shirts and caps on a street near you.
So, yes, it was a big day for hockey in Puget Sound. Kraken succeeds Metropolitans, a team that was in the headlines the last time the NHL was blown into disarray by a pandemic a century ago. The new name is contemporary, imaginative and appropriately ferocious for 2020.
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