In the midst of trying to entertain their three-year-old twins, Cam Talbot and his wife, Kelly, have been packing up their Calgary rental home.
Their plan is to head back to Ontario in the next few weeks, which says plenty about how doubtful they are about the possibility the NHL can shoehorn in a conclusion to this season.
Assuming they do depart by month’s end, there’s a chance they won’t be returning to Calgary next year.
While Flames fans and management would love to see Talbot and David Rittich return as the team’s tandem in net next season, the former has earned the opportunity to explore options he likely opened up for himself this season.
Bouncing back after two subpar years, his strong play with the Flames not only made him the team’s likely playoff starter, but demonstrated he has regained the form that made him a proven No. 1 the three previous seasons.
“That’s why I wanted the one-year deal — I wanted a redemption year,” said the 32-year-old unrestricted free agent, who signed for $2.75 million after coming off a nightmarish season with Edmonton/Philadelphia.
“I knew that if I came to camp healthy and in the right situation, I was confident I was going to be able to get back to that form. I think I played through some stuff that maybe I shouldn’t have played through the year before, and toward the end of the year before that, so that had a lot of mitigating factors behind my declining play those years. But I think my record shows that when I’m healthy and on top of my game I can be one of the best in the league.”
His 42 wins three years ago proved that.
Talbot and Rittich made the same amount of money this year, but the team’s focus was on finding out just how dependable the latter could be as a starter. Rittich flourished early on, playing more games than any other goalie by December, relegating Talbot to spot duty.
Sent in to play the second half of back-to-backs in some of the league’s toughest barns, Talbot’s solid play was overshadowed by the team’s inability to score with him between the posts.
By Christmas, that all turned around, giving him an increasingly demanding workload that he parlayed into a 9-4-1 record after Jan. 1.
His 2.63 GAA and .919 save percentage this season were better than Rittich’s, setting the stage for him to vie for a starting gig somewhere next season.
“I hope that’s the case,” he smiled.
“I obviously wouldn’t mind coming back here either. I loved it here. It’s a great situation, a great locker room and, obviously, I have a really good relationship with Ritter and Siggy (goalie coach Jordan Sigalet). So I mean, I wouldn’t rule out coming back, but, obviously, my goal coming here was to show the rest of the league that I still have it in me to be a starting goalie and I think I accomplished that.”
He’s most certainly in for a raise, making it a tough decision for the Flames to decide how to move forward with a position where the organization has very little depth.
Undersized Everett hotshot Dustin Wolf is the best goalie in junior hockey, but turned 19 Thursday and is years away from the bigs. Tyler Parsons’ injury woes had him playing in the ECHL last season.
This franchise has major goalie decisions to make, and believing Talbot will automatically re-up here is misguided at best.
Rittich’s second-half fade for the third-straight NHL season is a legitimate cause for concern, making an even-keeled pro such as Talbot a perfect tandem-mate.
“I think as long as I would get a fair chance off the bat (to be the starter) — I don’t know if this year I really got that,” said Talbot of a potential return.
“I know that they kind of wanted to see what was going on with the Ritter, but I kind of knew that coming in. I think that once I got my opportunity to come in and show what I can do that I still would be able to carry the mail. Obviously, I’d like to play more than 50/50, but 50/50 would be, you know, another step up from what I got this year, so I’ll take it.”
No matter how flat the salary cap is, Calgary will have the wiggle room to increase Talbot’s salary.
The question is, how many other teams will be vying for his services, driving up his value.
Losing Talbot would be a significant blow, especially given how popular he became after giving the Battle of Alberta its very first goalie fight, which will be rebroadcast Saturday on Sportsnet West.
“As long as I’m part of the battle, I think it will keep coming up,” chuckled Talbot of his centre ice tilt with towering Mike Smith.
“It’s just kind of weird that it was the first in history, which has got to count for something.”
It sure does, in the eyes of players on both sides.
“Zack Kassian texted me after the game, saying that Smitty really respected me for meeting him out there and doing what we did,” said Talbot.
“All the guys in our room and all the guys that I talked to said I was ‘nuts’ for going out there because of how big he is, but good on me for doing it.’”
Kassian was one of a handful of his former Oilers teammates who reached out, including Darnell Nurse, who was the one who directed Talbot’s attention to Smith while all hell broke loose.
“Yeah, it was funny, it was his birthday a few days later, so I sent a happy birthday wish and then a few expletives in there as well for throwing me to the wolves,” said Talbot.
“We both had fun with it.”
So did the rest of the province.
Stay tuned to see if Talbot is around next year for a rematch.