Build from the net out, they say. Or, in Edmonton’s case, rebuild from the net out.
Two months into his much scrutinized tenure as general manager of the Edmonton Oilers, Peter Chiarelli went out and traded for a No. 2 goaltender he believed (correctly, so far) would make a dependable No. 1.
Yeah, the Oilers still came up short of a post-season berth in 2015-16, but Cam Talbot responded to his elevated role by recording the most wins (21) by an Edmonton goalie in eight seasons, with the second-best save percentage (.917) by an Oilers netminder since the NHL started tracking the statistic (Devan Dubnyk posted a .920 in 2012-13 but played 18 fewer games).
For an encore, the Ontario native got all stingy in Russia, recording four blank sheets while providing the backbone to the second of Team Canada’s back-to-back world championships in May.
Talbot confesses that it “kinda sucks” he hasn’t had much time for personal travel this summer, but unlike some NHLers, he’s already been on the ice for weeks. When he’s not looking up Adam Larsson‘s hockeydb page, he’s checking the mail for his new skinny goalie equipment (see No. 22 here).
Talbot, 29, says he’s ready to up his games played for the third straight season, and with wife Kelly set to deliver twins in November, he’ll have no choice.
Sportsnet.ca recently caught up with the double-daddy-to-be over the phone from his training grounds of Hamilton, Ont., where the “16 or 17” handicap had just finished a round of golf.
Talbot addresses his increasing workload, Connor McDavid‘s potential captaincy, and Chiarelli’s bold moves in our chat.
— Kelly Talbot (@kellytrain) July 6, 2016
SPORTSNET.CA: You jumped from playing 36 with the Rangers in 2014-15 to 56 games with Oilers in 2015-16—a 20-game difference. How did you handle that, both physically and mentally?
CAM TALBOT: My body felt great. I felt I could’ve played more. I had played 55 games in Hartford [for the AHL’s 2012-13 Connecticut Whale], so I’d had a taste of that before getting called up the next year and going down to 21 [with the New York Rangers in 2013-14]. Obviously, that’s the backup role. But my body felt great this year.
Mentally it’s a bit challenging when you’re not winning as often. As we grow as a team, the wins are going to come. If I get on a roll, I can play 65 games this year and my body will be great. Should be a lot of fun.
You jump from a busy season right to Team Canada. What was the World Championship like?
It was different. It’s a great experience to play for Team Canada, obviously, but when you’re going to a place like Russia… Saint Petersburg was really nice, but Moscow was a different animal altogether. I’d never been overseas. That was my first time in an international tournament and my first time in Russia. It’s definitely a different culture there.
“How ready is anyone, really, for the captaincy at any age?” says Talbot. “If anyone’s able to do it, Connor can.”
You recorded four shutouts and backstopped your country to a gold medal. Where does that rank in terms of your greatest moments on ice?
That’s got to be right up there. Obviously going to the Cup finals with New York [in 2014] was pretty special, but to win a gold medal on an international stage with your country is one of the top points in my career for sure.
When did you hop back on the ice to start training again?
Two weeks ago. I just ease into it with a few ice times to get my timing back. Then I get into hard training and work on specific areas of improvement. I’ve had a goalie coach [Pat Dipronio] here for about 15, 16 years now, going to the same goalie clinic. When I made a Junior A team in Hamilton, my goalie coach ended up being the coach there, and we’ve been working together ever since. It’s just a small goalie clinic down in Hamilton. Guys I train with come out and shoot on me. I get to face NHL-calibre shooters, they get to shoot on an NHL goalie, so it’s beneficial for both sides. It’s a good competition, too.
Who do you train with?
[Nashville Predators defencman] Ryan Ellis was here, but went back to Nashville. Jeremy Williams played for Toronto and New York. He kinda bounced around a little bit. He’s in Europe now, but he’s got one of the best shots I’ve ever faced. Plus a couple more pro guys in Europe. All of them are great shots, so it keeps me ready and keeps my timing on, so I’m ready when I get to camp and facing those tough shots.
“If I get on a roll, I can play 65 games this year.” —Cam Talbot
You have a new backup this season in Jonas Gustavsson. Did you reach out to the Monster yet?
I haven’t yet; I haven’t got his number. I did reach out to [Milan] Lucic after we signed him and Jesse Puljujarvi after we drafted him. So I’ll definitely get in touch with Gustavsson and see if he wants any tips on where to live in the city and that kinda stuff.
What did you say to Lucic? You battled him in the Eastern Conference, then you both moved west last summer. You can’t escape the guy.
I’m sure he was bombarded with text messages, but I just told him that if he needs anything, he can always reach out to me. He has my number. He’s such a force in front of the net, and I know he’s scored a few big goals on me before, so it’s definitely nice to have him on my team. When a big guy like that stands in front of you, he makes it hard to see the puck. He’s definitely good at what he does there, and he’s an intimidating factor on his line. It’s good for Connor to have a bit of protection. That’ll be nice for him.
Is McDavid ready for the captaincy at age 19?
I’ve been asked that a lot. I think he is. How ready is anyone, really, for the captaincy at any age? It’s a big jump up and a lot of responsibility, but if anyone’s able to do it, Connor can. He’s so grounded. He was raised really well, he’s got a good head on his shoulders, and he leads by example. He works hard on and off the ice. He’s the kind of guy guys are going to follow in the dressing room. I think if you put a leadership group around him and give him the C, he’ll grow into it and lead this team for sure.
Were you as surprised as the rest of us when Columbus passed on Puljujarvi at the draft?
I don’t know a whole lot about him because I faced [fellow Finnish prospect Patrik] Laine at the World Championship, but [Puljujarvi] was injured. I’d heard nothing but positive things, and it seemed like the top three [prospects] were pretty much a lock, so when he dropped to No. 4 I couldn’t believe it. When a talent like that falls in your lap, you kinda have to take him. So I was surprised by that, but he’ll be a terrific addition to the right side. We expect him to step in.
Where were you when you discovered Taylor Hall had been traded?
I might’ve been on the golf course. Twitter—that’s where everyone finds these things out. Guys find out themselves they’ve been traded on there. I texted him right away. I’m sure he had a million texts, so I didn’t hear a whole lot back, but it’s a really good opportunity for him.
What was your first reaction to the deal?
Definitely a loss for us, but we need to fill a void on defence. To get a kid like [Adam] Larsson, a young kid coming up who’s steady defensively, that’s the kind of guy we need on our team. Hopefully he can grow in that role and it can be a beneficial trade for both sides.
How familiar were you with Larsson prior to the trade?
I wasn’t too familiar with his game, even playing in New York. Once you see the trade you start doing research, and there’s nothing but great things about him. A pretty steady guy for New Jersey last year, which is a good defensive team, but he was also plus-15 on the season, which is impressive for a young kid to have numbers like that on a team that didn’t make the playoffs [and had a minus-24 goal differential]. Not the most offensive guy, but we need some defensive prowess down there. Hopefully he’ll help with that.
“…As long as I do my part, I think we could definitely battle for a playoff spot this year.”
As a goalie, do you take a major trade like that as a confidence builder? Management was willing to deal a significant piece in order to get you some help.
Not only to the goalies but to the entire team. It shows they’re committed to the process of what they came here to do, and I think they knew the back end was a priority this summer. It’s tough to give away a guy like Taylor, but the return for a good defenceman is high this summer. You have to give up something to get someone good, and I think we did that. I’m not sure Peter’s done yet, so we’ll see what other pieces he can put in place here to point us in the right direction.”
You’ve only been there for one season, but it’s been 10 years since the Oilers made the playoffs. In light of the changes, how far off are you guys now?
I don’t think we’re that far off from making the playoffs, to be honest with you. I think one more piece [on defence] and we’ve got all the talent up front we’ve always had and added more talent via free agency and the draft. When you shore up the back end, which is what Peter’s trying to do, as long as I do my part, I think we could definitely battle for a playoff spot this year and next year and go from there.