The Toronto Maple Leafs are the least intimidating team in hockey for a number of reasons.

In the beginning, when the hockey gods created hockey, all teams had very boring names. Like, for example, the Montreal Amateur Athletic Association. Or the McGill Hockey Team. This is because old-time Canadian hockey had the most rigid, rigorous, passionate commitment to boringness you ever saw in a sporting culture.  Remember, this is the sporting culture that took about eighty years to get comfortable with the idea of raising your arms after a scoring a goal. Frankly, I’m a bit surprised that there was never a team called the Toronto Group of Hockey Players.

Anyway, after about twenty years of calling hockey teams by the literal name of the organization, people started getting marginally more creative and calling teams after the rink they played in, giving us charming names like the Victorias and the Crystals.  This, in turn, gave rise to a brief fad for symbols of ethnic origin (the Shamrocks), local industry (the Creamery Kings), and ridiculous wealth (the Millionaires).  But then it wasn’t until the expansion of the 1920s that hockey discovered intimidation, and team names were never the same after. The new American teams didn’t have silly names like “Senators” and “Maroons”. No. They were Bruins and Pirates and… okay, well, Quakers might have been a mistake. But the point stands: for nearly a hundred years now, teams have tried to come up with names that have been in some way frightening, imposing, or intimidating.  Some have succeeded better than others.  And so, I give you, the teams of the National Hockey League, ranked according to scariness of name:

Not at all even remotely scary in any way: 

  • Maple Leafs: Let me repeat this one more time, for those of you who weren’t listening:  Leafs. Leafs (or leaves, as those of us who can spell properly call them) are so unscary that, if you were making a list of things you are not scared of, you would not even think to put leaves on there.  Virtually every single thing in the entire world is scarier than leaves.  Pillows are scarier than leaves.  Kittens are scarier than leaves.  Butterflies and hummingbirds and the warm fuzzy feeling you get in your tummy when you see someone you love: all these things are scarier than leaves.  I suppose if they were, like, the Hemlock Leafs, and you were Socrates, there might be something to it, but these are Maple Leafs. The only way they could possibly scare you is by leading to an embarrassing situation where you might have to admit your colorblindness to a group of strangers.  [N. B.: Canadians will tell you that you should find this name scary because it comes from the military, which is also why they will tell you that the Regina Pats name, which comes from Princess Patricia, is intimidating. To those Canadians, I ask: why do you name your military units after such unintimidating things?]
  • Blues: This team is either named for a color, sadness, or music about sadness. Way to strike pensiveness into the hearts of your enemies, St. Louis.
  • Flyers: I don’t even know what they mean by this. Like the things they hand out in supermarkets? Or those little red wagons kids have? Or some bizarre generic object about which nothing is known except that it has the capacity for flight? Whatever, it’s not intimidating, it’s just confusing.
  • Red Wings: Dismembered pieces of cardinals aren’t scary at all, except insofar as they might make people think that a team named after mutilated bird appendages is not quite right in the head. (Don’t even start on the whole “winged wheel” thing- that makes even less sense, although I guess it is frightening in a creepy postmodern taxidermy art sort of way.)
  • Ducks: Oh sure, they look harmless, but if you are holding a piece of bread you better watch the fuck out, because your fingers WILL get mildly nipped.
  • Penguins: I’ve seen the nature documentaries, so I give penguins full points for toughness and tenacity, but the only things that have ever been frightened by them are small Antarctic fish, and frankly my baby cousin could scare a small Antarctic fish.
  • Canucks: You can’t go around defining your country by its chilly courtesy, natural reserve, and absurdist comedy and then expect people to be scared of a team named for them. The only reason ‘Canucks’ beats out the previous six is that at least they’re people, and therefore theoretically capable of doing some kind of violence to others. But they wouldn’t.
  • Canadiens: Narrowly beat out Canucks because, as we all know, French Canadians are slightly more badass than their Anglophone counterparts.
  • Islanders: Granted, the guy in the rain gear looks sort of like he might be a serial killer, but once you insist on telling me that he’s a fisherman, the horror is lost.
  • Senators: The Senators try to fool you into thinking they’re scary by using a centurion as a logo, but don’t be deceived: they’re not the dudes who go around Europe cracking heads and building viaducts They’re the ones who hang out next to picturesque white columns wearing drapey white togas and speechifying about waste disposal policy. BORING.

Scary in the 19th century, but not anymore:

  • Blue Jackets: This is right on the borderline, because technically, it’s just a piece of clothing and therefore not at all scary. However, we will concede that, as a term to refer to Civil War soldiers it might have been disturbing, had you happened to be in 1863 and wearing a grey jacket.
  • Sabres: Once upon a time, fuck yeah, a dude with a sabre was a seriously dangerous thing. But that was before Glocks.
  • Blackhawks: Black Hawk was a Sauk military leader in the early 19th century who resisted the claims of white settlers to tribal lands. He fought alongside the British in the War of 1812, and twenty years later led a group of 1500 Sauk, Fox, and Kickapoo across the Mississippi to try to reclaim lands he believed had been illegitimately ceded to the United States. So if you were a land-grabbin’ white person in Illinois in 1832, yeah, this guy’s name might well have made you shit your colonizing pants. But then he lost the war, and the land, and a hundred years later Frederick McLaughlin’s lady wife reimagined him as the smiling logo we see today. This may be one of the saddest declines in badass reputation in American history.
  • Rangers: The New York Rangers were founded by Tex Rickard, and as a play on his name, he called them Tex’s Rangers, a pun on “Texas Rangers”.  The Texas Rangers were one of those bizarre, morally ambivalent American frontier organizations: sort of law-and-order, sort of let’s-round-up-a-posse-and-kill-people, sort of raiding-across-the-Mexican-border, lots of fighting-indigenous-peoples-in-ways-that-make-modern-people-uncomfortable-to-think-too-hard-about.  I’m not even going to get into this convoluted history; you draw your own conclusions.  But they were definitely scary, and I guess still are, at least if you find Chuck Norris unironically intimidating.
  • Devils: You thought this was going to be the winner, didn’t you? Because what’s scarier than the devil, huh? He’s the EMBODIMENT OF PURE EVIL, right? Well, if you’re a literalist Christian or a small child, anyway. If you’re not, he’s either a made-up creature on par with Jormungandr the Serpent who Encircles the World, or an allegorical representation of a theological principle. So, figuring an opposing team is made up of men comprising several different major religious bents, this name is far more likely to provoke a meditative debate on the nature and form of evil than actually terrify anyone. Clarify your fucking ontological status, New Jersey, before you try to throw down.

Scary under certain particular circumstances:

  • Predators:  This would make it nearly to the top of the category, if they’d chosen The Predator from the movies as their icon.  But the whole sabre-tooth tiger thing just makes it seem lazy.  Pick an animal, Nashville, no fair claiming an entire ecological role occupied by hundreds of species.
  • Panthers: Fun fact: “panther” is actually a catch-all name for several different varieties of large cat of the genus Panthera, including kinds of jaguar, leopard, and, in Florida, a population of cougars. While most of these cats do attack people on occasion, there has apparently never been a documented case of a panther attack on a human in Florida, so this animal is hypothetically scary more than actually scary.
  • Stars: True, they are enormous balls of plasma burning at up to 7000°C, but then again, they’re also very far away and no human being has ever directly encountered one yet.  I think we’re safe for a few hundred years more.
  • Coyotes: A small, opportunistic predator which poses far more of a threat to your puppy than to you.  However, should you ever encounter a human-sized talking version, you best run the other way, because you’re either about to be on the losing end of a cosmic morality fable or you’re on mushrooms.
  • Oilers: I spent about an hour last night debating people on Twitter about what the hell an Oiler is anyway, and came up with the following possibilities: A) someone who greases shit on a boat, B) someone who greases shit in a paper mill, C) a piece of equipment on an oil rig, or D) it’s made up and means nothing. Whichever way, it sounds like the sort of thing that might be dangerous if it overheats, I guess?
  • Jets: Is it a passenger jet or a military jet? And if it’s a military jet, what is it doing? An air show? Reconnaissance? Shooting people? If so, is it shooting me? Never mind, I’m tired of trying to figure this out. Bonus points for being scarier than “Thrashers”, though.
  • Kings: Depends on which king. King Richard the Lionheart? Intimidating. The Burger King? Not so much.
  • Wild: Things that are often described as “wild”: animals, parties, sex. I don’t know if this team is trying to intimidate me or pick me up.
  • Capitals: This might, on the surface, seem like a Kings/Jets situation where it depends on which capital we’re talking about. But c’mon, you know this team ain’t representing Ulaanbaatar. This is DC, and the only question is this: are you with them or against them? With them? Here, have some guns and wheat surplus. Against them? Here, have some death rained down from above by unmanned drones.

Genuinely frightening:

  • Lightning: A massive electrical discharge from the sky that can be up to five kilometers long, contain one billion volts worth of power, and raise the immediate air temperature to around 30,000°C (yes, hotter than the inside of a star).  Good thing a lightning bolt is only about half an inch in diameter.  There’s a reason we use “you have a better chance of being struck by lightning” as a descriptor of extremely unlikely events.  But still, bad shit when it happens.
  • Flames: If you ask people to rank their ways they’d least like to go, being burned to death is almost always up there, and if witch-hunting were still a popular pastime then Calgary might be able to challenge for the top spot. But we’ve got fire pretty well under control these days, and the word “flame” is now more suggestive of candlelit baths than the sin-purging heat of a vengeful God.  Oh well.
  • Avalanche: A distinct threat to skiers, sherpas, and mountain hermits the world over, but not of tremendous concern to most areas of human habitation. Also, if cartoons are to be believed, they can’t get you if you’re super-quiet.
  • Bruins: For your reading pleasure, Wikipedia’s “List of Fatal Bear Attacks in North America”. There are a lot of them.
  • Sharks: Yes, I know, sharks for the most part do not deliberately feed on humans, they’re just animals like any other, so on and so forth, but fuck man, this is a creature with row upon row of replaceable giant teeth that can sever human limbs in one bite. They’re capable of bursts of speed up to 31 mph. If sharks could get onto dry land, you would not leave your house unarmed.
  • Hurricanes: For the last twenty years at least, being able to fuck up New York City has been the gold standard for American cinematic catastrophe, but most of the things that could do it- aliens, meteors, Godzilla- are still imaginary and/or hypothetical. So really, all you need to know about hurricanes is this:  that shit that they show you in disaster movies to try to scare you into thinking that the world is falling apart at the seams?  Hurricanes can actually do that. And if you consider that a hurricane, a typhoon, and a cyclone are all the same meteorological phenomenon… excuse me, I have to go hide under my bed now.