Hat tricks are piling up at a near-historic rate this season

There are a lot of great moments in hockey, but few please crowds quite like a hat trick. It’s simple to see why: most of the time, if a player scores three goals by himself, his team is likely to earn a win. Beyond that, it gives fans an opportunity to throw something toward the ice without fear of a Ron Artest-style retribution.

(Though you might recall Sidney Crosby didn’t especially appreciate Capitals fans throwing hats during the 2009 playoffs.)

If you noticed a considerable increase in hat tricks so far this season, you’re justified in doing so. Adam Kimmelman of NHL.com points out that the league hasn’t seen hat tricks being scored at such a rate since the 1994-95 season. Let’s take a look at some of Kimmelman’s findings.

(Note: these stats are valid before tonight’s games. No one scored a hat trick in the night’s first five games, although Torrey Mitchell currently has two goals in the Ducks-Sharks game as of this writing.)

Through the first 247 games this season, there have been 20 players putting together three-goal games, the most at this point in a season since 1994-95, when there were 22. At this point last season there were just 11 hat tricks.

Nineteen different players have had hat tricks this season, including a pair by Washington Capitals forward Alexander Semin. He had 3 goals against the Thrashers in a 4-3 overtime victory Oct. 23, and had 3 goals — including the game-winner, as well as 2 assists — in 6-3 win against the Lightning on Nov. 11.

That same night, Philadelphia Flyers forward Jeff Carter scored 3 straight goals — a natural hat trick — in an 8-1 rout of the Hurricanes. It was the first natural hat trick in an NHL game since Marian Gaborik accomplished the feat Jan. 31, 2010.

Two hat tricks on one day hasn’t been all that unique this season — Oct. 22 and Oct. 23 each featured a hat trick of hat tricks.

(Continued note: it’s not clear if adding five or six games to that hat trick stat changes things significantly.)

As Kimmelman pointed out, there were some historic moments attached to some of those hat tricks. From the early accomplishment angle, New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan scored his first career goal(s) via a hat trick. On the other end of the fence, Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson earned his 1,000th career point as part of a hat trick performance.

Believe it or not, 247 (or even 253) games is actually a fairly small sample for league-wide trends. Hat tricks are still relatively rare occurrences, so these trends could go two different ways. It could go either way, but so far, it’s been fun to watch the hats fly with such startling frequency.

Johnny Hockey: ‘I love Calgary, don’t get me wrong’

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Johnny Gaudreau made headlines last week when he went on Philadelphia radio and said it would be “sweet” to play for the Flyers one day.

Gaudreau — a South Jersey native who grew up cheering for the Flyers, but currently stars for the Calgary Flames — has now been offered a chance to clarify a few things about that interview.

“I think if you ask any player in the NHL if they’d like to play in their hometown at some point they’d all say it would be pretty sweet,” Gaudreau told the Courier-Post in a Q&A. “You’ve got friends, you’ve got family, you’ve got kids you went to school with, you’ve got teachers, you name it. You’ve got people that will be supporting you. The people support me down here, like it’s crazy down here. I’m just really fortunate they follow me up in Calgary.

“I love Calgary, don’t get me wrong. It’s a great city and they’re so passionate about our team. It’s a real hockey city. I really enjoy it up there, don’t get me wrong, but I think if you ask any player if he wants to play in his hometown they’d say it would be pretty cool to do that.

“I’ve still got five more years on my contract and who knows…if we’re playing well up here in Calgary I could end up staying another four or five years there because I love the city so much. It’s tough to have all those articles come out when it’s something so small, but that’s the way it goes sometimes.”

It’s certainly possible that Gaudreau opts to explore unrestricted free agency when his contract expires. But he doesn’t have that option until 2022.

For now, Gaudreau’s excited about the next few years in Calgary, where the Flames are trending the right way, possibly soon into legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.

Related: Stability, Stanley Cup aspirations ‘a breath of fresh air’ for Mike Smith

Matt Murray discusses the ‘new look’ Penguins

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Save for the loss of Ben Lovejoy, the Pittsburgh Penguins of 2016-17 looked a heck of a lot like the Penguins of 2015-16.

Both those teams won the Stanley Cup, of course.

But the Pens of 2017-18, while still boasting superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, will have to attempt a three-peat without some key pieces from the 2017 run.

Gone are Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley, and Ron Hainsey, the latter of whom proved a savvy pickup by GM Jim Rutherford at the trade deadline.

It’s also possible that Matt Cullen opts for retirement.

True, the Penguins added Matt Hunwick in free agency, and they don’t expect to be without Kris Letang again next spring.

But for goalie Matt Murray, winning it all in 2018 seems a larger challenge.

“Obviously it’s not easy to win at all in this league, especially with the salary cap and the turnover that teams go through. Last year we were lucky that we didn’t lose too many guys and we had a lot of the same guys come back,” Murray told SooToday.com.

“This year it’s a little bit different. We lost some key pieces and we’re going to have a new look going into this season. But I think we’ve added some key pieces as well and I think we’re in really good shape. Of course it’s going to be difficult, but I think if there’s a team that can do it, we can do it.”

For any team that loses important players, the key to success is usually found in the organization’s youth. Enter forwards Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese. If those two can become contributors by the playoffs, it would sure help.

Rutherford will also have to come through by finding a new third-line center. That’s no easy task given the importance of the position. Bonino was a tremendous bargain for the Pens, but he’s in Nashville now.

Related: Pens can’t ‘panic’ to replace Bonino

Report: Bruins avoid arbitration with Spooner

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Heading into today’s arbitration hearing, Ryan Spooner was reportedly looking for a $3.85 million dollar deal. On the other side of this equation, the Bruins were only willing to offer $2 million.

With that kind of gap, it seemed almost certain that this dispute would be settled by an arbitrator, but the two sides have reportedly met somewhere in the middle, per Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

Friedman is reporting that the two sides have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a deal worth $2.825 million.

Spooner finished last season with 11 goals and 39 points in 78 games. The 25-year-old scored two less goals and 10 less points in 2016-17 than he did the previous year.

There’s no doubt that he has plenty of offensively ability, but consistency in his own end has always been an issue (just ask former head coach Claude Julien).

If Spooner can put it all together this season, he’ll be able to earn a much bigger pay day next summer.

Brian MacLellan wants you to know that the Caps are still ‘a good team’

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The Washington Capitals will look pretty different when training camp opens.

Alex Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Braden Holtby and Evgeny Kuznetsov will all be back, but players like Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Nate Schmidt and Karl Alzner are starting new journeys somewhere else.

Some have suggested that the big number of departures will bring the Caps down a notch or two when it comes to regular season dominance. GM Brian MacLellan simply doesn’t see that happening.

“People make it sound like we’re a lottery team,” said MacLellan, per the Washington Post. “I’m shocked by that. We’ve got good players. I want people to know: We’ve got a good team.”

The Caps will have to rely on young veterans and/or rookies to fill the void left by all of those departures. Andrei Burakovsky and Tom Wilson may have to play bigger roles, while rookies like defensemen Lucas Johansen  and Christian Djoos may crack the lineup sooner than expected.

As of right now, the Caps have five defensemen on one-way contracts (Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Dmitry Orlov, John Carlson and Taylor Chorney), so there’s plenty of room for those youngsters to leave their mark on the team.

“It’s a good team, I think,” MacLellan said. “We have good goaltending. We have skilled players. We’re going to have to see how Djoos plays, how Johansen plays. We might take a little while to get up to speed in that area. I guess there’s a little uncertainty. But I feel good.”

 McLellan’s team might take a bit of a dip because the supporting cast took a hit this offseason, but expecting them to fall off the map because of it is a little premature.