Under Pressure: Cam Talbot

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Edmonton Oilers. 

We here at PHT have had goalies in this spot more times than not so far this month.

It comes with the territory. It’s the most important position on the ice and responsible, ultimately, for how many pucks end up counting against a given team.

Talbot is coming off a season where he wasn’t himself. A .908 save percentage was the worst of his career. He went from stopping over 22 goals above average to a negative number and faced the fourth most shots against of any starter in the NHL. The game he played as he helped lead the Oilers to the brink of the Western Conference Final in 2017 simply wasn’t around this past season.

Talbot’s responsible for his own game, but he was let down by others around him. He faced four more shots per/60 last season than he did before. In fact, Talbot played nearly 450 minutes less last season but still saved just six fewer shots than he did in 2016-17. The Oilers, as has already been mentioned several times today, were an unmitigated disaster last year. Goaltending contributed to that, but Talbot wasn’t the sole reason for it. A better effort from those in front of him could go a long way to his rebound attempt.

Talbot faces the pressure this season of replicating what he did two years ago, because with the lack of moves the Oilers have made to get better this offseason, their season might just hinge on if he can put together another Vezina-caliber type campaign.

[Looking back at ’17-18 | Building off a breakthrough: Darnell Nurse | Three questions]

“I have a pretty good feeling,” Talbot said near the end of the season. “If you compare this season to my first four years, this is the outlier. It wasn’t just last year (that he was solid). I had three good years before that. I don’t see myself as two different goaltenders. I see myself as one guy.”

And those are just the on-ice pressures a goalie faces.

Talbot is entering a contract year and the biggest potential for him to earn big bucks next offseason will come down to his performance. Two out of three seasons with upper echelon numbers and the excuse that the Oilers were bad in his down year will go along way in negotiations, especially if he gets off to a good start.

Talbot’s save percentage never dipped below .917 before last season, so there’s every reason to think that was a just a blip on the radar and not the status quo moving forward.

A rebound season from Talbot should net him a nice salary increase from the near $4.2 million he’s making at the moment. That would present an interesting situation for the cap-strapped Oilers.

There’s not much fat getting trimmed off the cap next summer for the Oilers. Talbot, backup Mikko Koskinen, Al Montoya (buried contract) and defenseman Kevin Gravel (making a paltry $700K) are the only UFAs slated for next summer on their current roster. The likes of Jesse Puljujarvi, Ty Rattie and Jujhar Khaira are all set to become restricted free agents and will need a raise in some fashion.

The Oilers need Talbot to play very well, but it’s a double-edged sword.

Either way, Talbot faces several pressures this season, from both a team standpoint as well as a personal one. Talbot has proven he can play among the league’s elite in goal. Now he has to prove he can get back there.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

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