If it weren’t for the emergence of David “Big Save Dave” Rittich, the Calgary Flames would be in trouble. Mike Smith, the goalie tabbed with being the starter at the beginning of the year, has struggle mightily through the first quarter of the season, and hasn’t really shown any signs of bouncing back. Rittich might have been the backup to start the year, but right now, he has all but stolen the starting gig from Smith.
Outside of goaltending, the Flames are a team that looks to be one of the deepest and most complete in the NHL. The addition of Elias Lindholm has worked like a charm so far, Noah Hanifin is starting to become more comfortable on the backend, and despite a rough start for James Neal, the team as a whole is deep enough to let him ride out this cold streak without losing games.
Three hours up the QE2, the Oilers are faced with a similar goaltending situation. After a brilliant 2017 season, Cam Talbot took a step back in the Oilers’ crease last year. This year, the Oilers were hopeful for a bounce back campaign from Talbot, but he has fallen short of expectations yet again.
The Oilers have turned to Mikko Koskinen who they signed in the offseason out of the KHL. He’s outperforming Talbot right now, despite this being just his second stint in North America. The Oilers don’t have the depth the Flames do, however, and a recent stretch of poor play resulted in them firing their head coach.
The struggles of both Alberta teams’ starting goalies has prompted a flurry of rumours surrounding them, but the most interesting one involves both: should the Flames and Oilers execute a rare trade to swap underperforming starting netminders? There are pros and cons on both sides of the deal.
Why it makes sense for the Flames
Shipping out Smith makes sense for a variety of reasons. For one, he’s 36 years old, and it looks like Father Time has caught up with him. He isn’t on contract past this season so moving an expiring asset would be nice if the return is decent. The fanbase has clearly turned on Smith, and he will have to play a game for the Flames sooner or later.
Rittich isn’t going to play the remaining 60 games, and when Smith does make his return to the crease, it’s not very likely that people will be pleased, regardless of the situation. The Flames will need Smith to get going at some point if they want to give themselves the best shot at continued success; it’s a necessary deed that will come eventually.
Beyond his on-ice play, there have been unsubstantiated rumours of confrontations between Smith and his teammates regarding his poor play, specifically with Neal. If that’s true, it’s possible that Smith is losing popularity in the dressing room too, and would benefit from a change of scenery.
Acquiring Talbot would not fix the fact that the Flames have no legitimate NHL goalie options next season, as he is also a pending UFA. However, Talbot is only 31 years old and has a higher chance of bouncing back with a set of capable defensemen in front of him. He did have a great year in 2017, and if the Flames think he can get back to that form, he would definitely be an upgrade on Smith.
Why it makes sense for the Oilers
One thing that Smith is known for is his compete level. He’s been identified as one of the hardest working goaltenders in the league and his work ethic is something the Oilers desperately need. Smith isn’t afraid to be his wild self at all times and a personality like his could help address the resiliency issues the Oilers are facing.
He might be on the older side, but Smith was an all-star last season and was one of the Flames’ MVPs in the first half. His season was derailed by an injury but if he can replicate last year’s first half, the Oilers would love it.
The most recognizable part of Smith’s game is his puck handling. Without a talented defense corps and lacking puck-moving defenders, Smith’s ability to break up dump-ins and help his defense get the puck out of their zone could go a long way in bridging the gap between the talent level of the Oilers’ forwards and their defense.
Losing Talbot would probably not be too popular with the Oilers fanbase, but he hasn’t really proven he can be a consistent NHL starter. His 2017 campaign was great, yes, but outside of that one year, he hasn’t held his own with a starter’s workload.
Koskinen on the other hand has handled starting duties in the KHL for years, including four consecutive postseasons where he played at least 15 games. He’s been the better goalie this year, and at this point, could very likely be a better NHL starter than Talbot. Still, Talbot will become a UFA in the offseason, at which point the Oilers could re-sign him if they really wanted to.
Why it probably won’t happen
In the end though, this trade doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Talbot clearly has more upside than Smith because of his age, and it would be unwise for any GM to even think about trading for Smith after his disastrous start. There is a much higher chance that Talbot can find his game than Smith can, and it just doesn’t make sense to add such a big question mark to a team that could cost many people their jobs if they don’t make the playoffs. Brad Treliving would probably make this trade in a heartbeat, but Peter Chiarelli wouldn’t, and that’s saying something.
If the Flames are looking to add another NHL goalie to their roster, they won’t find him in Edmonton.