Now we know why Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli fired a bunch of his scouts right before the draft. Turns out, he wasn’t interested in drafting any players — after Connor McDavid — anyhow.
After dealing picks No. 15 and 33 for big defenceman Griffin Reinhart on Friday, Chiarelli moved his other second round pick (57th), a third-rounder (79th) and a seventh-rounder (184) to the New York Rangers for netminder Cam Talbot.
OK, at the time of this writing the Oilers still had picks in the third, fourth, fifth and sixth rounds remaining, but Chiarelli chose against drafting 18-year-olds in this rich draft, and instead landed a No. 4 overall pick (from 2012) in the 21-year-old Reinhart, and Talbot, whose worth we are not still entirely sure on. (More on that later).
The theme here is improving the lineup today, but not with players who are in their late 20s or early 30s who will be gone by the time the Oilers are theoretically ready to compete for a Stanley Cup. Reinhart is three years away from the beginning of his prime, and Talbot emerges from the shadow of the great Henrik Lundqvist in New York to entertain his first legitimate shot at being an NHL No. 1.
Chiarelli’s greatest needs when he took the job as Edmonton’s GM was a goalie and two top defencemen. He has made great strides in that direction over this draft weekend. Reinhart may – and we’re saying ‘may’ — one day be a No. 2 in the image of a Brent Seabrook, while Talbot has all the pedigree and experience to be a fine No. 1 one day.
But there’s one problem: neither has actually done it yet. And, Talbot is one year away from unrestricted free agency.
Oilers fans will recall the gaudy numbers that Ben Scrivens posted as a backup with the Los Angeles Kings, after a similar stint as the Kings No. 1 when Jonathan Quick was injured, the same way Talbot carried the ball this season when Lundqvist went down for an extended period. Those numbers never made the flight to Edmonton with Scrivens, and that is exactly why Chiarelli found himself in the goalie market at this draft.
Chiarelli has said all along, however, that the biggest change in Edmonton will come in playing better all-around defensive hockey, and he hired new head coach Todd McLellan with that mandate. The Oilers, with Reinhart and likely one other depth acquisition on the blueline, will have improved defensive personnel, along with a new standard imposed by McLellan.
That should afford Talbot the opportunity that Scrivens never had: the chance to ply his trade behind a sound defensive system played by competent defensive players.
As for Talbot’s contract status, with the drafting of McDavid and the front office change over, as one veteran Oiler put it quietly the other day, “Nobody wants to be traded out of Edmonton now.” Yes, it’s a risk to spend three picks on a goalie who may walk after one season. But with this rebuild finally gaining traction, a new building on the way for the 2016-17 season, and a GM and coach tandem with experience, if I am Chiarelli I am betting that Talbot wants to be the man standing in goal when the Oilers next make the post-season.
The trade happened moments after Dallas had acquired the negotiating rights to Antti Niemi. Robin Lehner had gone to Buffalo already, and New York GM Glen Sather could see the goalie market drying up in front of his eyes. So he and Chiarelli pulled the trigger on a transaction they had been discussing for weeks.
Talbot turns 28 on July 5, but has little mileage on him. He’s 6-foot-3, fully developed through five professional seasons in the Rangers system, and when he was called upon to rescue the Rangers’ season with Lundqvist injured this year he stepped up and delivered.
Can he do it in Edmonton? The climate for success is certainly changing in the Alberta capital, there’s not questioning that.