2016-17 Edmonton Oilers: No. 33 G Cam Talbot
The Oilers have made some controversial moves over the last few seasons, but there is at least one that 99 percent of the fanbase can agree on: the summer 2015 deal that saw Edmonton trade a collection of draft picks to the Rangers for goaltender Cam Talbot, who this past season was arguably the most important Oiler not named Connor McDavid.
In his debut Oilers campaign, Talbot overcame a rocky start to establish himself as a bona fide starting goaltender in the NHL, the first to hold the Edmonton net since Devan Dubnyk’s collapse in 2013-14. In 2016-17, he improved upon that performance.
Talbot’s endurance may be the most remarkable thing about the season he just played. His 73 games played in the regular season was the most by any Oilers goaltender since 2001, when Tommy Salo also appeared in 73 contests. Only Grant Fuhr (75 appearances in 1987-88) has ever started more regular season NHL games in an Edmonton uniform.
Talbot’s mark is more impressive once playoff performance is considered. Salo played just six postseason games in 2001; Talbot recorded 13 this season. Again, only Fuhr (19 games in a Stanley Cup-winning performance in ’87-88) piled as many playoff contests on top of such a busy regular season.
Endurance is nothing without effectiveness, but Talbot maintained a high standard of play even while being the only goalie in the league to appear in 70-plus games. His 0.919 save percentage ranked ninth among NHL starters and fourth among the 60-plus game crowd. He bettered that number by five points with a 0.924 performance in the postseason.
There were suggestions late in the season that Talbot should have been a Vezina nominee, and it isn’t a crazy idea; it all depends on how one balances save percentage versus games played versus the difficulty of playing behind various defensive groups/schemes. I’d grade him just a little bit short of that, personally. Sergei Bobrovsky, Braden Holtby, Carey Price and (ironically) Dubnyk all played 60-plus games and had an overall save percentage at least four points better than that posted by Talbot.
Those are the only four goalies I’d say belong ahead of Talbot on that list this season, though, and a top-five goaltending performance is rarefied air. Even a critic who places far less emphasis on games played than I did would be hard-pressed to argue that Talbot belonged outside the top-10 league-wide last season, which is certainly good enough to win with.
It’s also fair to point out how much those extra games played mattered. The Oilers went cheap behind Talbot this season, opting to bring in veteran backup Jonas Gustavsson in the No. 2 role. Gustavsson imploded and was dispatched to the minors at midseason, after which it took head coach Todd McLellan quite a while to warm to his replacement, prospect Laurent Brossoit (who to his credit played well when finally entrusted with the net). Talbot’s ability to play a lot of games shielded the Oilers from the negative effects the team otherwise would have suffered from having such uncertainty in the backup position.
Talbot has been a fantastic return on Edmonton’s initial trade investment of second- and third-round draft picks. He’s also more than lived up to his modest contract, which carries a cap hit of $4.17 million for the next two seasons.
Bottom line: Talbot was a rock in net for Edmonton last year, playing a ton of minutes and handling them brilliantly. He hasn’t just provided a fantastic return on the initial trade investment or his modest contract; he’s given the Oilers a starting goalie who should be capable of backstopping the team to a championship once the skaters in front of him hit that level of performance.