Two summers ago, as the Flames were readying themselves to rob the Boston Bruins blind in the Dougie Hamilton deal, rumors were circulating that the New York Rangers were going to trade their stalwart backup goaltender, Cam Talbot.
The then-27-year-old was coming off a 21-win, .926 SV% in 36 starts after an exceptional rookie campaign that saw him post a mind numbing .941 SV% in 21 games as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup.
The Flames and Oilers were identified as being among the most interested parties for his services, leaving many confused as to why the Flames would ever want to disrupt their power duo of Jonas Hiller and Karri Ramo by bringing in a first-time starter. Yeah, about that…
The Oilers ended up winning the Talbot sweepstakes, sending second, third and seventh rounders to the Rangers for the puck stopper. After a shaky first month in Shelbyville, Talbot has established himself as a bonafide starter, appearing in 129 of 164 possible games for the Oilers since the trade, including 73 (!!) this past season, the most of any goalie.
The Rangers replaced Talbot by signing Antti Raanta away from the Chicago Blackhawks, and two years later, find themselves in a nearly identical position as 2015. They’ve got a 27-year-old goaltender looking to become a starter for the first time after two great seasons as Lundqvist’s backup, and with one more year remaining on his deal before unrestricted free agency, he will undoubtedly walk for a shot at being a starter somewhere. As an added wrinkle of fun, Raanta is also expansion draft eligible, and would be a great fit for Las Vegas.
The Flames have yet to find stability in net since Miikka Kiprusoff vacated the crease, and adding a Cam Talbot-type would be a coup for the young team. So the question is, is Raanta really the second coming of Talbot?
Talbot v Raanta
On the surface, the similarities seem abundant. Talbot was 27 when dealt to Edmonton, and Raanta is 27 right now. Both served as backups to Lundqvist for two years, Talbot playing 57 games as a blueshirt; Raanta, 55.
These similarities are, however, superficial. To get a better feel of just how similar the two are, let’s compare 2014-15 Cam Talbot and 2016-17 Antti Raanta in depth.
|Name||GP||GAA||SV%||ES SV%||LD SV%||MD SV%||HD SV%||Record|
*Numbers via Corsica.hockey
It seems comparing the two really is justified, because aside from HD SV%, they aren’t separated by more than 1% in any category. That HD SV% is to be noted as exceptional from Talbot, as it was the fourth best number among goalies with over 1200 minutes played. For reference, the best HD SV% among all goalies past season was 85.71. However exceptional it was, it then cratered to 79% in his first season in Edmonton and finished at 81% this past season, so we shouldn’t really read too much into that number.
Otherwise, there’s a lot to like about how Raanta compares to Talbot. Both sported quality even strength save percentages, a more accurate depiction of a goaltender’s performance than regular save percentage, seeing as the penalty kill can often skew results unfairly.
Raanta did play six fewer games than Talbot, and Talbot has a slight edge in most statistical categories, so that’s of note as well, but overall, Raanta has played 1351 more NHL minutes to this point in his career and has faced 713 more shots, with similar success as we see above. The extra experience should be viewed as a positive, but isn’t a scale tipper, necessarily. Both Talbot and Raanta posted back-to-back shutouts over the course of their pre-trade seasons (assuming Raanta is dealt).
Another interesting note is rebound control. Talbot gave up 74 rebound opportunities (shots against resulting directly from a rebound allowed, or RBA), which amounts to about two per game, while Raanta was a much more airtight 1.4 rebound opportunities surrendered per game. The discrepancy doesn’t seem much, but averaged out over 55 games (average starter workload), Talbot surrenders 33 more rebound chances than Raanta. Obviously rebound shots are much more dangerous than regular shots, and rebound control is one of the pillars of a quality goaltender.
It’s interesting to note that Talbot’s RBA rate dipped slightly to 1.92 last year and jumped to 2.5 this past season. Seems rebound control is something a goalie either has, or doesn’t have. Raanta has RBA rates of 1.4, 1.07 and 1.6 prior to his 1.4 rate this year. It’s safe to assume this will continue, and is another good sign when projecting his success as a starter.
Not just Raanta
Talbot isn’t the only example of promising backup goaltenders getting opportunities as starters and finding great success in recent memory. Martin Jones backed up Jonathan Quick in L.A. for two seasons prior to finding his way to San Jose via Boston and leading them to the Stanley Cup Final, following that up with an equally strong sophomore year despite a first round exit.
In the second part of the Becoming Contenders series, I also identified Philipp Grubauer as a potential target for the Flames if they wanted to try for a backup-to-starter conversion. Grubauer is 25 years old, which is the same age as Jones was when he got his shot in San Jose. Here’s an updated look at the comparison table, with Jones and Grubauer added.
|Name||GP||GAA||SV%||ES SV%||LD SV%||MD SV%||HD SV%||RBA/G||Record|
|Cam Talbot (14-15)||36||2.21||92.58||93.04||98.34||91.14||85.34||2||21-9-4|
|Martin Jones (14-15)||15||2.25||90.55||91.57||97.46||91.82||78.48||1.26||4-5-2|
*Numbers via Corsica.hockey
The real outlier here is Martin Jones, who has the smallest sample size of the lot, and frankly the worst results. His rebound control was stellar, but everything else was below standard. Despite this, he went on to lead the Sharks to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. His RBA actually shot to above two in 2015-16, and was almost at two last year as well, so the small sample size appears to mislead our analysis of him. In fact, the paltry 15 games played make all of his numbers unreliable.
The other addition, Grubauer, fairs very favorably. His low danger save percentage was second best in the NHL this season, and his MD SV% is also head and shoulders above everyone else on the chart. Like Talbot, he surrenders a decent amount of rebound opportunities, but also like Talbot, displays excellent athletic ability to reposition himself to stop those chances.
One would prefer better rebound control, like Raanta displays and Kiprusoff was famous for, but as Talbot has shown, it isn’t the be-all-end-all.
The opportunity for the Flames to replicate what the Oilers did two summers ago with Talbot appears to be on the table. The important thing to note is that opportunity is to “acquire a promising young, potential starting goaltender,” not a “surefire, young starting goaltender”. Much like the Talbot situation, there’s no guarantee Raanta, Grubauer or another one of the young goaltenders potentially available (Juuse Saros in Nashville and Joonas Korpisalo in Columbus, to name two) will turn the corner from backup to starter like Talbot and Jones did.
But given the Flames’ situation – a budding contender with no goaltender – and the two possible heirs to the crease in Gillies and Parsons still a little ways away, it makes sense for them to take a shot at a first-time starter. Veteran starters in Hiller and Elliott both flamed out, so how much more of a risk is taking on Raanta or Grubauer?
Also mentioned in Part 2 of the Becoming Contenders series was the deep pool of average goaltenders with starting experience on the UFA market this year, allowing the Flames to insulate their young netminder with experience in case he hits the wall midseason.
So, while Flames fans may enviously watch Talbot carry the Oilers to playoff success, they may have their own version in just a few months’ time.