Cam Talbot’s Evolution to $12.5M Oilers Extension
A high-profile trade acquisition at last summer’s NHL Draft, Talbot was off to a somewhat predictable rocky start in Edmonton. The 28-year-old former New York Rangers’ backup was 3-8-1 with a .900 save percentage with the Oilers, and appeared to have lost the starting job to Anders Nilsson while only playing one game between Nov. 14 and Dec. 14.
Fast forward to Sunday’s contract announcement and Talbot was 5-5-2 with a .927 save percentage since.
It’s the kind of inconsistency that leaves many wondering about the risks of locking up Talbot to be Edmonton’s No.1 for the next three seasons, even with a salary cap hit of $4.167 million that would rank 24th among NHL goalies this season, a seemingly good match to Talbot’s 22nd ranked save percentage of .914 overall in Edmonton.
Clearly the Oilers are counting on Talbot, whose career .926 save percentage in 83 NHL games includes a .920 save percentage playing 5-on-4 that might be unsustainable, continuing to evolve as a starting goalie. Understanding the steps in that process, and how it may have affected Talbot this season, may provide a view into their thinking.
Part of the early struggles likely related to playing in a new conference, with new teammates and in a new system under new Oilers coach Todd McLellan. While Talbot told InGoal Magazine early in that process that the structure didn’t differ a lot from New York, having an entire team trying to learn it together meant it took time to figure out, maybe not who was supposed to be where defensively, but trusting that they would be there and at the right time.
“Where guys are supposed to be, the reads we are making, what lanes the defense is supposed to take away, what lanes I am responsible for, there is a lot of second guessing maybe because not everyone is 100 percent familiar with the system yet,” Talbot said three weeks into the season. “So sometimes those reads get thrown off and you just have to battle through.”
“As a team and players we notice it where to a fan or the naked eye, they might not notice a guy not being in the right spot and another guy fills in for him and it looks like he gets beat but really he is just trying to help out,” Talbot said. “Anytime you bring in a new system or new players that is going to happen. There might not be that trust right off the bat but once you start to build chemistry and build trust and guys know where they are going to be and guys know that guy is going to take care of his man so I can do my job over here, that’s when you really see teams come together and start putting together wins.”
Talbot has learned that trying harder as a goalie doesn’t make it happen any faster. He’s talked a lot lately about “letting the puck come to him,” and it was a big focus with Oilers goalie coach Dustin Schwartz during the month of inactivity.
“Sometimes it’s almost like you try harder and you are almost just putting yourself in worse positions,” Talbot told InGoal shortly after Christmas. “Every time things start going not your way you want to try to do more to force it but that’s not the way it works in goaltending. You can’t just try harder. You have to read the play and stay a little more patient and sometimes that is tough but I think that’s what I worked on those two weeks is just staying a little more patient, a little more calm, and let the play come to you. That’s what I am doing recently and I seem to find myself in better position.”
For Talbot, trying too hard can also manifest itself in extra mo
“Sometimes there is maybe too much footwork, too much gliding when you are not as patient as you want to be,” said Talbot, who was reminded of a mantra repeated often in New York by Rangers goalie guru Benoit Allaire. “‘Beat the pass, question-answer,’ as he always liked to say. It sounds so simple but when things aren’t going your way sometimes you have to take a step back, take a breather and just focus on getting back to that, make that first save and work from there.”
That takes care of the technical adjustments, but as Talbot pointed out, the mental game can be just as challenging and trying too hard amid the expectations of being a No.1 goaltender for the first time in the NHL started between the ears.
“The technical part of the game never changes, just the mental part, so I just had to kind of settle myself down there and I think I did a pretty good job of that after that little hiatus there when we went on that streak there,” Talbot said. “It’s a mental thing and I think I have overcome that now and I’m back to where I want to be.”
It helped that Talbot has been through this before, trying too hard to prove himself in a new role.
When Rangers star Henrik Lundqvist went down with a neck injury in early February last season, Talbot stepped up and went 16-4-3 with a .929 save percentage, making him a desirable offseason addition for the Oilers. What many had forgotten by the time he was traded to Edmonton, is Talbot gave up 15 goals his first five games as the starter before settling down.
“On a big stage like New York and the guy you are trying to fill in for is one of the best in the world, you try to do a little too much to fill those shoes but you can’t do that,” Talbot said. “I remember (Allaire) pulled me aside and told me ‘we just need you to play like Cam, we don’t need you to play like Henrik.’ That was his message last year and this year I am just trying to take that approach and step back and play within myself.”
Talbot also learned to manage his rest and his game in the starter’s role while Lundqvist was out, something Nilsson was still figuring out amid his opportunity play through mid-December. There will likely be more lessons for both goalies to learn in the NHL, but by signing Talbot to a three-year extension, the Oilers are betting he will continue to evolve into a No.1.