If you were inclined to list all of the reasons why it’s taken the Edmonton Oilers an entire decade to get up off the floor they’ve been face-down on since making it to Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup final against the Carolina Hurricanes, you’d have to use most of your fingers and toes.
High up on that list, easily in the top three, is how fantastically inept the organization has been at finding goaltenders who can stop enough pucks to give a team that’s been short here, there and everywhere a chance to win. Granted, that’s been a next-to-impossible ask given the patchwork collections of overmatched blueliners and forwards stoppers have been asked to perform behind, but even allowing for that, the Oilers have been dismal at finding masked men.
Finally, after a carousel that’s seen 18 different goaltenders man the crease for the team since the start of the 2006-7 season, Cam Talbot and the current edition of the Oilers are climbing out of the deep, dark hole GMs Kevin Lowe, Steve Tambellini and Craig MacTavish dug and are shaking the dirt off thanks to the low-risk bet new GM Pete Chiarelli made after taking over the big chair.
Of course, it’s not just Talbot, who won his 36th game of the season with a 2-0 shutout of the Vancouver Canucks Saturday and is now closing in on Grant Fuhr’s franchise record of 40 wins in a season, who has turned the team’s fortunes around since Chiarelli stole him from the New York Rangers, but you cannot overstate how important he’s been. That seems obvious – now.
NO SURE THING
With the benefit of hindsight, it’s obvious now Chiarelli fleeced Glen Sather and the Rangers by getting Talbot and a draft pick (209th) for the 57th, 79th and 194th selections in the 2015 Entry Draft. At that price, Talbot, who’d mostly caddied for Henrik Lundqvist in his 57 games with the Rangers, was a good bet. I thought so at the time and so did most of you. I had no idea, though, Chiarelli’s roll of the dice would turn out as well as it has. Guess what? Neither did Talbot.
Mark Spector of Sportsnet talked to Talbot about cleaning up a mess in the crease that had seen Richard Bachman, current back-up Laurent Brossoit, Ilya Bryzgalov, Tyler Bunz, Yann Danis, Jeff Deslauriers, Devan Dubnyk, Viktor Fasth, Mathieu Garon, Martin Gerber, Jonas Gustavsson, Nikolai Khabibulin, Jason LaBarbera, Jussi Markkanen, Anders Nilsson, Dwayne Roloson and Ben Scrivens spend time in the blue paint since 2006-07.
“I had that stretch in New York when Hank went down,” Talbot recalled of taking over after Lundqvist took a puck to the neck and going 12-2-3 with a .923 save percentage in a 17-game stretch. “But it’s different, knowing you’re going right back to the bench. As opposed to now, where I know that night in and night out I’m going back into the nets.
“You can never be too sure. You want to be confident in yourself, but I still had something to prove to myself, and to this organization when I got traded here. I think I’ve done a pretty good job of that.” With a 36-20-8 record, a .921 save-percentage, goals-against average of 2.35 and six shutouts with 11 games to play, “a pretty good job of that” is the understatement of the year.
Getting Talbot for the draft picks Chiarelli gave up is like finding a crumpled $20-bill in a jacket pocket, slapping it down on a lottery ticket and hitting the jackpot. Outside of landing Connor McDavid in the NHL draft lottery, acquiring Talbot stands today as the most significant bit of good fortune in, at long last, turning a miserable decade around.
Great goaltending will seldom, if ever, make a lousy team a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. It can, however, put a good, sometimes even a borderline, team in the hunt. We saw it here with Curtis Joseph in the 1990s and with Roloson in 2006. The Oilers are a good team right now — likely better than what Cujo had in front of him. So, you get what we’ve got here. A chance.
The Oilers are going to make the playoffs for the first time since their Cup run came up short in 2006 and Talbot, who has started 64 games and isn’t showing any signs or running of gas, is within reach of Fuhr’s single-season franchise record of 40 wins. Who called that when Chiarelli sent those afterthought draft picks to Manhattan? Not me.
Barring an unexpected playoff roll like we saw in 2006, there’s likely more work for Chiarelli to do, more seasoning required for young players like McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Oscar Klefbom, before the Oilers can reasonably be expected to take a run at a sixth Stanley Cup. What we do know is the Oilers are a good team on the rise and they finally have their goaltender. It’s been a long time since we could even contemplate having the conversation that follows.
Listen to Robin Brownlee Wednesdays and Thursdays from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on the Jason Gregor Show on TEAM 1260.