“To be honest, I have a lot to prove.”
If you’re a Calgary Flames fan, those are the words you wanted to hear from newly signed Cam Talbot. Coming off the worst year of his career, Calgary is banking on Talbot returning to career norms as he partners David Rittich this season. While a bounce back is anything but guaranteed, Talbot’s body of work suggests last season was a misnomer. That’s why a one-year, $2.75 million deal is well worth the risk.
The body of work
Prior to last season, Talbot’s career was the picture of consistency. Even with a tough year split between Edmonton and Philadelphia, Talbot boasts a 0.915 career save percentage; it’s at 0.918 if you take last season out of the picture.
When you put up numbers like above for five straight years, having a season go off the rails like 2018-19 did is a shock to the system. Now it’s on Talbot to ensure he uses a difficult campaign as motivation, which seems to be how he’s approaching things with the Flames.
“Last year was my worst year as a professional and it’s something I don’t take lightly,” Talbot said Monday. “I’ve been back in the gym and working hard for a long time now already, I didn’t take too long off. I want to make sure that something like that doesn’t happen again. (It’s) kind of a redemption year for myself personally and professionally.
“I’m not going to lie it was obviously extremely frustrating to come off of five pretty consistent seasons in an extremely tough league; those are tough to string together. To have a season like that…it can weigh on you a little bit. I’m working that much harder this year and coming into camp more prepared than I ever have.”
Not everyone loves this signing, but I think Talbot’s career affords him some benefit of the doubt. Last season was Talbot’s first truly bad season after five consecutive solid ones. I’ll go as far to say he deserved to be a finalist for the Vezina Trophy in 2017, even though he finished just on the outside. Yes, I know he played for the Oilers and this is Flames site, but he posted a 0.919 over 73 starts! Connor McDavid or not, Edmonton doesn’t hit 100 points without Talbot’s Herculean work a few seasons ago.
The following year, his final full season in Edmonton, Talbot struggled out of the gates before finding his form in the second half. Talbot was down at 0.902 over his first 34 starts in 2017-18; he finished at 0.913 in the final 33, which is much closer to career averages. As such, it’s fair to say Talbot has just one poor full season to his name, and that’s his most recent.
Even the NHL’s best goaltenders have a down season here and there. There might not be a more volatile position in professional sports, which is why a larger sample size is always a better tool in evaluating. Buying too much into one season is dangerous, good or bad, and the Flames seem to be on board with that line of thinking.
“We studied a lot of Cam’s film and games a couple years ago when he had a good year, and looking at it this year,” general manager Brad Treliving said Monday. “When you have a body of work in the league and you have an up year or a down year, most times things always regress to the mean. This is a guy who’s been…a darn good goalie on his team for a long time.”
To illustrate the point, I plucked a few goaltenders to show variance over a span of three or four years. It seems no goalies are immune to a down season. What’s more telling, however, is how these guys have responded to a frustrating campaign.
|Jonathan Quick||Robin Lehner||Carey Price|
I’m not comparing Talbot to the goaltenders above as much as I’m attempting to illustrate a trend. More often than not, posting consistently strong NHL numbers is indicative of being, well, good. Talbot’s numbers were extremely consistent over a long stretch prior to last season, which is why optimism is high for a positive response.
Of course, all goaltending conversations come with the same disclaimer: this is not a perfect science, or anything close to it. In fact, I lean far more towards voodoo or witchcraft than science, which is why predicting the future can be a fool’s errand. All we can do is look at a body of work and make an educated guess, which is what the Flames are doing here.
Talbot’s difficult 2018-19 could very well be the start of a downward trend; he wouldn’t be the first goalie to drop off in his early 30s. On the other hand, there’s plenty to suggest last season was just a blip on the radar for one of the league’s most consistent over the last half-decade. That’s why Calgary’s potential reward in signing Talbot on a one-year deal outweighs the risk.