Cam Talbot shifts from bit player in the New York net to starring role in Edmonton. Can he handle the new workload and higher volumes of rubber?
Nothing puts Cam Talbot’s new life in a nutshell like the simple act of trying to speak with him.
He’s easy enough to find at Smashfest, Dominic Moore’s charity ping-pong tournament. Talbot, 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds, towers over most of the NHL players, journalists and fans in attendance. He’s a game interview subject, too, polite as can be and suggesting we find a quieter part of the building to hear each other better.
Every step Talbot takes, however, he’s mobbed. Fans cling to each of his appendages, begging for photo ops, and he obliges each with a smile. Every time it appears he’s home free, three more people grab him.
He apologizes, but I just shake my head.
“Don’t worry about it. Welcome to life on a Canadian team.”
Talbot, 28, has not started a single game for the Edmonton Oilers. He has only been their official property a month. But he already gets the rockstar treatment. It’s a big change from his days as a New York Ranger. Markets don’t get bigger than the Big Apple, yes, but Talbot backed up the ultimate rockstar goaltender, King Henrik Lundqvist. Talbot was a revelation when during Lundqvist’s injury-abbreviated season, going 21-9-4 with a 2.21 goals-against average, .926 save percentage and five shutouts, but he returned to Hank’s gargantuan shadow come playoff time.
Talbot, a late bloomer who came from the U.S. college ranks, had maxed out his stock as a No. 2 goaltender. He had just one year left on his contract after inking a short extension, and Lundqvist is signed until kingdom come, so it made no sense for the Rangers to keep Talbot. On day 2 of the 2015 draft they sent Talbot plus the 209th pick to the Edmonton Oilers for the 57th, 79th and 184th picks.
The stakes were instantly raised for Talbot. The Oilers, under the fresh guidance of new GM Peter Chiarelli, paid a lot for a stopper with 57 games of experience. They acquired defenseman Griffin Reinhart and drafted some kid named Connor McDavid the night before landing Talbot. The following week they signed center Mark Letestu and new No. 1 blueliner Andrej Sekera. This team wasn’t just turning over a new leaf. It was burning down the forest. And it said a lot that Chiarelli placed so much faith in Talbot.
“I was extremely excited to come to a team that’s going to have a lot of upside coming in next season, a lot of excitement around the team, with a great core group of guys,” Talbot said. “We’re definitely heading in the right direction, and hopefully I can fit into their plans and grow with that team.”
Talbot was nothing but excellent as a New York Ranger, so he should fit nicely into the Oilers’ plans indeed, instantly supplanting Ben Scrivens as the starter. But how different will the game flow in front of Talbot be? His Broadway Blueshirts iced Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Dan Boyle, Keith Yandle and Kevin Klein on defense. The Rangers allowed the third-fewest goals in the NHL. The Oilers allowed the most.
Some of the numbers, though, suggest the Rangers relied on Lundqvist and Talbot more than vice versa. New York finished a pedestrian 14th in shots allowed per game and 19th in Corsi Close, not much better than the Oilers in either category, yet New York’s .923 team SP was third-best in the NHL, while Edmonton ranked dead last at .888. Maybe, then, Talbot is better set up for success than it seems, especially when the Oilers have made multiple additions designed to augment defensive acumen and added a new coach in Todd McLellan, whose Sharks teams usually limited opposing offense well.
And even if the Oilers provide Talbot with less help than the Rangers did, he’s ready. He says his NCAA days prepared him for it.
“It’s going to be a bit of an adjustment, obviously, but I played at Alabama-Huntsville where I was used to getting a few shots a game, you could say,” he said with a laugh. “So hopefully I can bring that mentality to Edmonton and stop as many shots as I did there. It’s a very up-and-coming team. We’re on the cusp of something. With a new system and new management in place, I think our team is maybe a year or two away from doing something special.”
Talbot carries himself with the fresh, friendly enthusiasm of a player not yet beaten down by the pressure cooker. It remains to be seen if starting 60 games in the Edmonton crease will change him. For now, though, he can’t wait for 2015-16 to arrive. He left for Edmonton this past weekend and will spend several days there meeting team personnel and finding a place to live. Then it’s a matter of getting back on the ice, presumably with Oilers goaltending coach Dustin Schwartz, and preparing to become a No. 1 goalie.
And will Talbot still sport one of his trademark Ghostbusters masks on his head opening night despite not playing in New York anymore? Count on it. It will feature a glow-in-the-dark Slimer from his regular artist Dave Gunnarsson and will serve as Talbot’s main design for the season. Maybe it’ll change again once the all-female Ghostbusters reboot arrives in 2016.
“That could be in the plans,” he said. “I love the women they’ve put in that movie. It was great casting, and who knows? Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to get a cameo in there because of my mask.”
Naw, Cam. Aim higher. Your days as a background player are over.
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin