The first word – “National” – is actually an acronym (who knew?) for Not Amenable To Including Options Not Anti-Labor. The third word – “League” – is generally understood as a reference to being “in league” with dark forces of some sort. It’s that second word – “Hockey” – that tells the most interesting story.
In the context of the acronym “NHL”, the word Hockey is subject to various interpretations, all of which may contain a shred of truth. The most plausible theory is that it is a combination of the words “hocked” and “hokey”, but that may be too Anglo-centric of a viewpoint, ignoring hockey’s international and ancient origins.
As a part of the complex phrase described above (NHL), the word Hockey may derive from the German word hoch, meaning tall, describing the apparent height of someone standing on skates. It may also derive from the Finnish word hakea, meaning “to fetch”, referring to the handsome prices the top franchises fetch when they come on the market. Alternately, it may derive from the Japanese word hoshi, meaning star, as a reminder that the game’s stars drive a lot of fan interest, though that interpretation appears lost on the current franchise owners.
The more likely origin, in my view, is that “Hockey” in this case derives from another Japanese word, hyaka, meaning one hundred, so that if one reads the entire phrase, the implication is that the league is “one hundred percent in league with dark forces.”
The jury is still out on the definitive etymology of “NHL”, but it’s clear that the final answer will require extensive cross-disciplinary study and collaboration. Still, it appears we will have plenty of time to research the matter in the months to come, without any actual NHL games to distract us, so there may be more arcane revelations to come.