Cam Talbot admits he’s still a bit stunned at how quickly it all unravelled.
Two years after being feted for backstopping the Edmonton Oilers to the playoffs with record-setting goaltending, the 31-year-old netminder woke up in his Edmonton home Monday morning wondering if the phone would ring with an offer for NHL employment.
The call he hoped for came from Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving, whose one-year, $2.75-million offer addresses the team’s top positional priority on a squad hoping to support David Rittich’s continued development.
Much like previous goaltending acquisitions such as Brian Elliott and Mike Smith, the summer signing certainly comes with plenty of risk, especially given the downward trend in Talbot’s game.
After breaking Grant Fuhr’s franchise record with 42 wins in a 73-start season in 2016-17, Talbot saw his goals-against average balloon to 3.02 the next year, followed by a horrific start last season that prompted a trade to another goaltending hell, Philadelphia. (He finished 11-17-3 with a 3.40 GAA and .892 save percentage).
"If I’m honest, yeah," said Talbot when asked if he was shocked by his rapid fall from prominence.
"Even the season before last, I don’t think I was as bad as most people thought. One of our top defencemen went down [Andrej Sekera], which is never easy, but I still had 31 wins. Last season was mentally and physically exhausting. It kind of turned quickly and for some reason, I couldn’t stop it.
"To be honest I have a lot to prove. Last year was my worst as a pro and it’s something I don’t take lightly. It will be a redemption year for myself."
Due to the Flames’ tight cap situation, Talbot is being given a chance to be this year’s Robin Lehner or Petr Mrazek, turning from castoff to linchpin.
The upside could indeed be huge given the dynamic defence and team in front of him.
The pressure isn’t necessarily that intense on Talbot as the central figure in Calgary’s net is a "home grown" project in Rittich that the team is focused on showcasing for years to come.
"My understanding is we’re going to be a tandem," said Talbot, owner of a career .915 save percentage, confirming the general assignment he’ll be expected to shoulder.
"It’s a two-goalie league — there aren’t many teams that have a goalie play 65 games anymore. Boston is a great example. Tuukka Rask looked extremely solid in the playoffs because he had so much rest. It keeps everyone fresh."
Perhaps the now unheard of 73-game season he had in 2015-16 had something to do with the recent demise of an otherwise steady netminder the previous handful of seasons.
No doubt the horrific defenders in front of him in Edmonton and Philadelphia also played a role, as did his eroding confidence.
Either way, the six-foot-four, 196-pound native of Caledonia, Ont., is hell-bent on redemption this fall, and he’ll go about trying to get it via a familiar face he hopes can get his game back on track.
After several years under the tutelage of Oilers goalie coach Dustin Schwartz, Talbot is returning to Ontario to spend the next six weeks with Pat DiPronio.
"He’s my old goalie coach from when I was 10 years old in Stoney Creek," said Talbot, who last worked with DiPronio before his breakout 2016-17 season.
"He always seems to know how to get the best out of me.
“I think it’s just resetting — more of a mental thing, going back to my roots and what got me here. I’ll be coming into camp more prepared than I ever have."
Treliving saw the best in Talbot not just as a Battle of Alberta opponent, but in Russia back in 2016 when Talbot backstopped Canada to four shutouts, a 1.25 GAA and eventual gold at the world championships. Treliving was co-GM of that team, which was coached by Flames coach Bill Peters.
It was there they took note of Talbot’s conduct on and off the ice, his athleticism and his ability to mesh with teammates — all of which led them to believe he was worth taking a chance on.
In anticipation of the signing, Flames goalie coach Jordan Sigalet broke down endless film of Talbot over the years and sees a few simple mechanics he’d like to change this fall.
The fact is, there were few other options and none made anywhere near as much sense as Talbot, an undrafted signing out of college who took the NHL by storm when he replaced injured Henrik Lundqvist with a 17-4-3 run that led the Rangers to The Presidents’ Trophy in 2013-14. That summer he was traded to the Oilers to shine as a first-time starter, but not before Treliving kicked tires on a possible deal for Talbot.
The Flames opted to part ways with Mike Smith this week, as the 37-year-old had essentially done what he could to help Rittich develop.
It is time for Rittich to get out of Smith’s shadow and continue growing alongside a versatile, experienced goalie.
While Curtis McElhinney has arguably been the league’s best backup the last few years, the 36-year-old was a better fit in Tampa (two years at $1.3 million AAV) where his annual workload won’t exceed 25 or 30 games.
The Flames needed someone capable of playing more — someone who could end up shouldering the load for stretches, should Rittich falter.
"We think we can get him back to where he was," said Treliving, who also signed defenceman Brandon Davidson and forward Byron Froese to one-year, two-way deals Monday.
"We think [his recent struggles] are the blip on the radar. We’re not bringing Cam in here to replace David Rittich. We’re bringing him in here to support David and we think it’s a really good fit."
On a busy day of signings and swaps around the NHL, one of the only reasons the Talbot signing was a talking point was because Smith happened to end up in Edmonton (one year, $2 million).
Talbot admitted it will be foreign to be on the south side of the provincial battle. He will adjust.
Due to the cap crunch held ransom by Matthew Tkachuk’s eventual signing, the Flames watched from the sidelines as popular fourth-liner Garnet Hathaway was lured to Washington (four years, $6 million).
Trade deadline rental Oscar Fantenberg was signed by Vancouver (one year, $850,000) and Curtis Lazar was given a one-year try in Buffalo for $700,000, mere days after the Flames chose not to qualify the RFA.
Treliving insists he continues to try working angles via the trade market, "but you have to find a fit."
The fit that many saw as logical, swapping T.J. Brodie for Nazem Kadri, was trumped by Colorado late Monday when Tyson Barrie was part of a larger deal involving the Leafs centre.
There is still plenty of time for GMs to recalibrate following the free-agent frenzy and make deals to fill needs money couldn’t address.
Expect Treliving to be one of them.