2015-16 was a slow season for Gordie Howe Hat Tricks. There were a total of seven. The previous low total I had researched was 10 in 2012-13, a lock-out shortened season.. Compared to 2014-15, fights per game was down to 0.28 from 0.32 and goals per game down to 2.71 from 2.73. So this was more a case of the stars not aligning for the GHHTs this year. Of note, Chris Neil notched his fourth career GHHT while playing in 900th career game. Alex Petrovic recorded a pair of Hat Tricks on February 9, 2006. One was the Gordie Howe Hat Trick, another was for fighting the same opponent, Evander Kane, three times during the same game.
Larry Robinson was not a prolific fighter, but he was a feared man. He built his reputation on bouts with Dave "The Hammer" Schultz and Gary Howatt during his second season. Robinson, at 6'3, 200lbs, was a big man by 1970s standards but he also had skill. Robinson would win two Norris trophies and be a 1st or 2nd Team All-Star six times. He set a NHL record with a +/- rating of +120 in 1976-77. Robinson, a HHOFer, would only rack up two Gordie Howe Hat Tricks during his career. His reputation as a fighter, and value on the ice, would keep his gloves on and Larry out of the sin bin.
In a way it strange that we profile Larry Robinson, not because of his low GHHT count, but since it can be argued that there would have been many more GHHTs if it wasn't for Larry Robinson. The expansion Philadelphia Flyers of the late 1960s was a weak team, in the standings and on the ice. Fred Shero took over as head coach in 1971 and began to bring in physical players. The team would bring a new style of play, often relying on their fists, as opposed to skill to win games. By 1973, the team had acquired the nickname "The Broad Street Bullies". The Flyers won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 75. Success bread imitators and some look as the Flyers reign as the dark days of hockey.
Then in 1976, the Canadiens swept the Flyers in the Stanley Cup finals. The Canadiens were seen as a team of skill and finesse, led by names such as Lafleur, Shutt, Dryden and Cournoyer. Although with Robinson, it could be said, beat the Flyers at their own game, intimidation. Robinson already had a much publicized win in ab out with Flyers legendery tough guy/goon Dave Schultz under his belt, and then in game two of the 1976 Finals, Robinson dished out one of the greatest hits in NHL history. Instead of acting like the Broad Street Bullies and jumping Robinson, the Flyers left Robinson alone.
In "The Game", Ken Dryden wrote of Robinson "They (Bruins and Flyers) held him in such awe, treating him with an embarrassing, almost fawning, respect, that they seemed even to abandon their style of play when he was around, and with it any hope of winning." So in a way, Robinson, while not putting a stop to thugs and goons around the NHL, helped the Canadiens show the rest of the NHL that you can win with skill and without the violence and goonery.
Granted with the continued trend of expansion of the NHL in the 1970s, the talent level continued to get watered down and it was easier to find goons as opposed to the skilled players the 1970s Canadiens had stockpiled over the years. So the GHHTs would continue to mount throughout the 1970s and 80s, as goals and fights would continue to increase.