The conversation between Edmonton Oilers‘ coach Todd McLellan and his No. 1 goaltender Cam Talbot, probably goes something like this:
McLellan: “Hey Cam, how ya feeling tonight?”
Talbot: “Good coach.”
McLellan: “Ok good, because you’re in again.”
With Talbot starting 64 of a possible 71 games this season, it’s likely these conversations are happening more and more often. Talbot leads the NHL in games played, starts by a goaltender, shots against, saves, time on ice for a goaltender and is second in wins with 36. If it hasn’t happened yet, there has to come a point where the coach and organization worry their goaltender is being overworked.
Or, maybe there doesn’t.
Talbot’s Season to Date
With his win against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday, Talbot is now tied for second place among goaltenders to wear the Oilers uniform and earn wins in a single season. With 36 victories, he’s now even with Tommy Salo and is only four wins behind Grant Fuhr for the Oilers record.
Along the way, Talbot has posted six shutouts, worked himself into any conversation about a Vezina Trophy and become a leader in the locker room for an Oilers team set to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade. He’s become a goaltender the Oilers don’t just want to play with, but a goaltender they want to play for and there is no doubt that Connor McDavid and company would like him to earn the distinction as the winningest Oilers goaltender in a single season.
While Grant Fuhr stands as arguably Edmonton’s greatest netminder of all time and sometimes seeing records go can be hard on nostalgia, the Oilers’ organization and the players likely have rooting for Talbot in common. Talbot breaking the record means the Oilers make the playoffs and with 11 games remaining in the season and with matchups against some of the NHL’s weaker franchises, the feat seems inevitable. Edmonton plays the last-place Colorado Avalanche twice, the Vancouver Canucks twice and the Los Angeles Kings twice. All three of these teams are set to miss the playoffs and offer up winnable games.
Grant Fuhr’s Mark
As it was when Fuhr set the record, for Talbot, his best chances will come from playing in every game. If he does, not only will he set the record, he could make it nearly impossible to catch.
Fuhr was able to reach his 40th win in 75 starts for the Oilers back in 1987-88. Talbot and the Oilers have only one set of back-to-back games to end the season and the numbers suggest the more Talbot plays, the hotter he stays. Edmonton wants a backstop at the top of his game going into the postseason. That means playing him as often as possible.
Talbot seems to thrive when played a lot. He seems to struggle when too rested. If he plays 90 percent of the Oilers’ remaining games, he has a chance to set a new wins mark in less time (68 games) and with a much higher save percentage than Fuhr did back when the Oilers were Stanley Cup Champions. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that Talbot could surpass Fuhr and end the year with 43 or 44 wins. It would be quite an accomplishment.
Backup? What Backup?
Having a netminder who plays as often as Talbot is playing doesn’t come without its challenges. Setting the record means the Oilers won’t have a chance to solidify a backup netminder going into the playoffs and the one thing the organization and fans have seen before is that a poor backup can mean the difference between winning and losing.
In the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals, Edmonton lost starter Dwayne Roloson to injury. They were forced to play backup Jussi Markkanen and the Oilers eventually lost in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes.
The backup options in Edmonton this season don’t tend to evoke a ton of confidence among the fan base.
The original plan was to have Gustavsson backing up Talbot. His poor play meant a demotion and a change of plans. Lately, Gustavsson has been on fire in the AHL for the Bakersfield Condors and has given them better than solid netminding.
Gustavsson will undoubtedly not return to the Oilers next season, but has his strong play earned him the opportunity to get the playoff backup role?
Jonas Gustavsson, who stopped 27/27 last night, has a .952 save % over his last five appearances. He’ll go again tonight.
— Ryan Holt (@CondorsHolty) March 18, 2017
Brossoit was promoted when Gustavsson faltered. He’s young and an emerging talent, but he’s far from proven and his play to date has been questionable. He’s played four games for the Oilers since his call-up and even if the Oilers lock-in a playoff position, the Oilers will be battling for home-ice advantage and Brossoit may see one, maybe two more games total.
The reality is, Brossoit is still an unknown within the organization and the chances are slim to none that Edmonton finds out what he can handle.
More Good News Than Bad News
That Talbot is set to become the Oilers’ winningest single-season goaltender is something to be celebrated. He was obtained from the New York Rangers for a song and has become the first bonafide starter the franchise has had in years.
Outside of McDavid, Talbot is arguably the Oilers’ MVP which means only good things for Edmonton who can be confident in their netminding moving forward. That Edmonton doesn’t have a known backup at this point isn’t great, but it’s also not enough to diminish the feat that Talbot is about to reach.