As was the case with just about every member of the Edmonton Oilers, Cam Talbot’s 2017-18 season was a disappointment in comparison to 2016-17, when the Oilers made the playoffs for the first time in a decade with 103 points and went two rounds deep in the post-season. Talbot had his fingerprints all over that campaign.
Likewise, it’s not the least bit unreasonable to point a finger at the drop off in Talbot’s play last season as one of the big reasons why everything went sideways. To understate, he wasn’t nearly as good. The question moving forward, given the lack of significant roster changes this off-season because of the salary cap corner GM Peter Chiarelli painted himself into, is whether Talbot can bounce back to, or close to, his previous form.
From where I sit, the ability of Talbot to put together a bounce back season is going to carry far more weight than what additions like Kyle Brodziak, Tobias Rieder and blue-chip first-round draft pick Evan Bouchard do in 2018-19 (I’ll also be taking a look at two or three other veterans in coming days). I’ll take it a step further – if Talbot doesn’t return to form, it really isn’t going to matter what the rest of the roster does.
WHO IS THIS GUY?
While it’s cold consolation for fans in the wake of a season that disappointed on so many levels, when I look at Talbot’s career numbers, I see this past season as the outlier, not the performance that backstopped the Oilers to the post-season in 2016-17. I think last season, not what we saw two seasons ago, is the one-off. He’ll get to prove it, with a contract on the line, this season.
In 2016-17, Talbot started a career-high 73 games and posted a 42-22-8 record with seven shutouts, a .919 save-percentage and a 2.29 goals-against average. Last season, he started 67 games, posted a 31-31-3 record with one shutout, a .908 save-percentage and a 3.03 GAA. The save-percentage and GAA were easily the worst in his five NHL seasons with the Oilers and New York Rangers.
Several factors played into those numbers. Talbot was slowed by an injury that finally took him out of the line-up. The Oilers knack of giving up a goal on the first shot of the game – an outrageous 14 times when I last checked – was a weakness. Too often, the penalty killing was abysmal and Talbot had a hand in that in what seemed to be a chicken-and-egg scenario. Bad PK, bad goaltending. Bad goaltending, bad PK.
While Talbot’s even-strength save-percentage dropped from .920 in 2015-16 and .927 in 2016-17 to .915 last season (a swing of 12 points from best to worst), he struggled mightily shorthanded. After going .893 in 2015-16 he dropped to .877 in 2016-17 and then fell off again last season at .848 (a swing of 45 points from best to worst). The one positive is Talbot played closer to previous form in the final quarter of the season.
So, is Talbot the stopper we saw during the return to the playoffs two years ago or the guy who we saw last season? Mark Spector of Sportsnet posed that question late last season: “If you compare this season to my first four years, this is the outlier,” Talbot said. “It wasn’t just last year. I had three good years before that. I don’t see myself as two different goaltenders. I see myself as one guy.”
So, can Talbot bounce back? His numbers through five seasons suggest that he can. If we put aside the disappointment of what was an unquestionably bad season after that playoff tease, I think that Talbot deserves the benefit of the doubt. What he does with it is going to have a more significant impact than anything else on what the Oilers do this coming season.