Needs met. Now on to the business of navigating the often stormy seas of an 82-game National Hockey League campaign. For the Calgary Flames, the need was a second goaltender. For unrestricted free agent Cam Talbot, the need was a job. And now the freshly-inked Talbot will dress in red, white, black and yellow in support of the recently inked incumbent David Rittich, the current starting Flames goalie for the 2019-20 season.
Talbot – who signed a one-year, $2.75 million contract on July 1 – fills the void in the Calgary crease as former Flames unrestricted free agent Mike Smith took his netminding skills a few hours north up the Queen Elizabeth II Highway, signing a one-year, $2 million deal to back-up Edmonton Oilers starter Mikko Koskinen.
Calgary was seeking to sign an established veteran who could saddle a load of 30 or so games. Flames brass was not ready just yet to award the backup role to either Jon Gillies or Tyler Parsons of the American Hockey League’s Stockton Heat. Both prospects provide needed organizational depth at the position are in the final season of their respective contracts. Flames’ general manager Brad Treliving and head coach Bill Peters are enthusiastic with their goaltending approach of Rittich taking on the number-one role and Talbot picking up games when required.
Treliving did his due diligence in the quest to find a backup and said he is convinced Talbot can make the necessary adjustments, calling Talbot’s season a blip on the radar. He’s certain Talbot will become a solid contributor to the defending Pacific Division champs.
Treliving Wants Talbot to Return to Previous Form
“If you take a wide lens and look at his body of work in the league, I think bringing him in to work alongside with David – a goaltender who we think his trajectory is – there’s still a lot of growth and upside with David,” Treliving told the Fan 960 radio in Calgary. “We’re excited about our goaltending situation.”
Expectations for the 32-year-old stopper are different between the club and Talbot himself. Flames brass would be happy if Talbot can spell Rittich on the back-end of consecutive nights, maintenance nights and other occasions and – should Big Save Dave go down for any period of time – carry the load and perform as a de facto starter. He capably played a similar role during his time with the New York Rangers, when he was the backup to future Hockey Hall of Fame member Henrik Lundqvist. Talbot proved himself worthy of becoming a starting goalie while Lundqvist was absent for two months with a severe neck injury, posting a 16-4-3 regular-season record, and then going 2-0 during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Talbot’s stellar play that season generated a lot of interest from other clubs, ultimately garnering three second-round draft picks going to the Rangers from Edmonton to secure the services of the up-and-coming University of Alabama-Huntsville alumni.
Given that Talbot has had recent success as a starter, these expectations should be considered realistic and achievable. The Flames expect a return to form by enabling him to focus on mechanics and details while having a lesser workload. His time in Edmonton saw the 6-foot-4, 196-pound keeper endure massive amounts of minutes played and shots faced. Combined with heavy travel for the central Alberta club, his time as an Oiler took a toll.
Talbot Targeting NHL Starter Job
Talbot has more ambitious plans for the upcoming season. Though he has accepted his role as Calgary’s second-string back-stopper, he intends to take every opportunity between the pipes this season to prove his final year in Edmonton and his short stint in Philadelphia – after being traded there for goalie Anthony Stolarz – was an anomaly, and that he is still capable of being an effective NHL-level starter at 32 years old.
“[Rittich] played extremely well last year and kinda took that spot and earned his right to battle for it. I’m going in. I want to compliment him,” said Talbot to Sportsnet. “Bill has already said that he likes to split his goalies. He doesn’t like to play one guy a ton more than the other, so I think it’s going to be a healthy competition between us for as many starts as we can get.”
How will the Caledonia, Ontario native get back to his old form of yesteryear – particularly the sparkling play during the Oilers 2016-17 playoff run? He proved to be a formidable last line of defence, posting a 2.48 goals-against average (GAA) and a .924 save percentage (SV%) in leading Edmonton to the Western Conference semi-finals before falling to the Anaheim Ducks in seven games. A return to basics and a short memory regarding last year’s woes are what the Flames and their new teammate are anticipating.
“Last year was an outlier in my career and I want to come in here and prove that I still have a lot of hockey in me, and there’s no better team to do it with than this,” said Talbot on the Flames’ Facebook page.
Oilers Goalie Coach Speaks Highly of Talbot
Talbot will have all the help needed to identify the areas of his game that can be tweaked and improved upon to regain his reputation as a mechanically sound, detail-driven purveyor of the craft. Flames goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet will be challenged in getting his newest charge back into form. Talbot spoke highly of his new mentor.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about him,” he continued. “The goalie coach in Edmonton (Dustin Schwartz) always talked very highly of him. It should be a good relationship and I look forward to getting going with him and Dave.”
And Talbot is obviously aware of and comfortable with his new head coach and general manager’s ways and is eager to demonstrate to them that their faith will be rewarded. Three short years ago, Talbot went 7-1 with a 1.25 GAA while posting four shutouts for gold medal-winning Team Canada during the 2016 IIHF World Championships in Russia, where Peters was the head coach and Treliving was the co-general manager.
“Playing with Bill (Peters) at the World Championships obviously helped – I know the style he plays and the system he plays,” Talbot said. “It’s a lot more defensive style of game. I think the defensive structure of this team is obviously solid. It’s a great spot to land here and obviously, I am excited to play behind them.”
Flames fans have reason to be excited, too, in the hopes that their former nemesis plays like the one who so often thwarted Calgary snipers in the past.
Allan is an award-winning writer, editor and journalist who has scouted high school athletes for the NCAA and MLB, and has worked in sports management and sales in professional soccer and football.