The first Edmonton Oiler to reach out to Cam Talbot after he was traded west was the very man whose job he will try to take next season.
Ben Scrivens didn’t have a spectacular 2014-15 season as the last line of defence on a club last in defence. The goaltender’s .890 save percentage and 3.16 goals-against average were career lows, but his games-played column (a career-high 57) and the fact he out-duelled Viktor Fasth (now bound for Russia) for the starter’s role hinted at opportunity.
After the Oilers swapped three picks to the New York Rangers in order to land Talbot on draft weekend, Scrivens fired off a text message to the other 28-year-old career backup looking to establish himself as the backbone of what could grow into a championship-calibre club.
“He said, ‘Hey, I grew up in the area. I know a lot. If you come out to visit, I can show you around.’ He was really inviting, really congratulatory toward me, and it sounds like we’re going to have a great working relationship,” Talbot told us at Smashfest IV last week.
“Very classy. I don’t know how many guys would do that—I’ve never been traded before—but for him to reach out like that, it says a lot about him as a person.”
Scrivens wasn’t going anywhere behind Jonathan Quick and his long-term, big-money deal in Los Angeles. Ditto, Talbot behind Henrik Lundqvist in New York. What Edmonton—which has iced 10 different goaltenders in the past three seasons—lacks in blue-paint certainty, it makes up for in opportunity.
Even upon striking the Talbot deal, Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli noted the apprehension that comes with acquiring a backup. Small sample sizes make front offices nervous.
The undrafted Talbot, a native of Caledonia, Ont., posted an impressive .941 save percentage in 2013-14 and a .926 mark in 2014-15, but that’s over just 57 total appearances, behind one of the league’s most defensively sound teams.
Talbot is a battler, though. He spent three full seasons in the AHL and ECHL before landing the No. 2 role behind Lundqvist.
“Just getting to the NHL was a dream come true. And then playing at the level I was able to play at in New York and getting the opportunity I got when Hank went down—it all snowballed into me thinking, ‘Hey, maybe I can compete for a starting job somewhere at some point,'” he explains.
“The Rangers were nice enough to trade me to a team where I’m going to have that opportunity, to be a 1A-1B thing hopefully. I can’t thank them enough for the past five years, but I’m looking forward to my time in Edmonton and push for that starting job.”
Talbot says his work ethic and training regimen this summer will remain the same, but he will enter training camp with the knowledge that more games are available if he can earn them.
“I’ve just worked my way up through the ranks, and I’ve never stopped working as hard as I can,” Talbot says. “I couldn’t be happier. To go in there with a great young team, a good core group of guys and the management, the coaching staff they’re bringing in, I think it’s going to be a really good team coming up.”
Talbot says the all-world Lundqvist’s work ethic was contagious. That the King would hate getting scored on in practice just as much as in games convinced him to never let up, no matter the situation, to create the habit of excellence.
Either out of humility or tempering expectations, Talbot refers to him and Scrivens as 1A and 1B. But a quick look at Todd McLellan’s track record shows that such a setup would be a new approach for the coach.
In seven years with San Jose, McLellan gave a minimum of 73 per cent of every season’s starts to one goalie. First Evgeni Nabokov, then Antti Niemi. Even with young Alex Stalock knocking on the door, crease-sharing was minimal, and a pecking order was clear.
That’s not to say McLellan can’t adapt his ways, but one has to think the Oilers would love to have one man to rely on for 60 starts. The thought that it could be Talbot stirs both eagerness and nervousness in the goalie.
“I’ve only ever been with the Rangers organization. To leave a team that I really love and a group of guys I like to come to the rink and see every day, it’s a little scary,” he admits.
“I’m excited to go there, meet a new group of guys and gel with them. It’s an exciting time in Edmonton. I’m happy to be a part of it.”