Way, way back in 2014-15, an injury to New York Rangers star goalie Henrik Lundqvist pressed his backup into action. Cam Talbot proved more than up to the challenge, winning 21 games, posting five shutouts and finishing seventh in Vezina Trophy voting. Yet just four summers later, the Calgary Flames were able to buy low on the netminder – what happened?
In the summer of 2015, the Edmonton Oilers won a bidding war for Talbot – at the time signed to a very inexpensive extension for the 2015-16 season – that reportedly included the Flames, Sharks, Stars, Sabres and Panthers. The Rangers received three draft picks for Talbot, and the Oilers received a goaltender that seemed prime for an even bigger breakout.
For two seasons, Talbot was one of the best goaltenders in the National Hockey League. For three seasons, he was also the busiest. From 2015-18, Talbot led all NHL goaltenders in minutes played, shots against, high danger shots against, medium danger shots against and rebound shots against.
As you can see from this situational shot breakdown (broken down by the degree of danger), he saw a ton of rubber over his first three seasons with the Oilers.
Here’s the problem with goaltenders that play a lot: unless their attention to detail is excellent (or their goaltending coach keeps a sharp eye on their form), their technique can slip due to fatigue. The human body can only take so much repetitive strain, and the mental strain of remaining focused during the proverbial “live fire” of frequent game action can take a toll on a goalie’s ability to bounce back. The mental side of things is one reason why goalies can tend to be streaky, as a rough outing can lead to a negative feedback loop if they aren’t given the opportunity to reset.
Here’s a look at Talbot’s even strength save percentage against different types of shots: low danger, medium danger, high danger, and overall.
The 2016-17 season was his masterpiece, where he finished with some of the best numbers in the league and was fourth in Vezina Trophy voting. The cracks began to show a bit in the 2017-18 campaign, where his numbers across the board started leaking a bit – he was a little bit worse in every game situation, but not awful. The bottom fell out in 2018-19, his low danger numbers were tremendously mediocre, to the point where the Oilers sold him off for pennies on the dollar.
The situational save percentage numbers seem to support the “overwork lead to sloppy technique” theory. But on July 1, during his chat with the media, Flames general manager Brad Treliving explained why the club is confident that Talbot can bounce back:
…the people in our organization that know this spent a lot of time looking at Cam as well as some other goaltenders and felt some of the things technically that maybe he had some difficulties with, that those are fixable areas.
Talbot was lauded upon arrival in Edmonton as a positionally sound, low movement goaltender. Anecdotally, and via the data, the story appears to be that he strayed from what made him effective due to being played so damn much by the Oilers and not getting the chance to reel in some bad habits. The Flames’ bet seems to be that through a combination of working with Jordan Sigalet and playing significantly less than he did in Edmonton – we’re guessing somewhere around 30 games – that he can make (and maintain) adjustments to his game that get him closer to what he used to be.
Talbot received serious Vezina consideration twice in the past five seasons and doesn’t have a serious injury history. He’s got some mileage on his body, but much of that is concentrated over the past four seasons. He seems like a decent bet for a bounce-back – there’s no way he’s actually as bad as he looked last season – but it’s yet to be seen if he can put the work in to get all the way back to what he used to be.
The Flames certainly seem willing to take that bet, though.