Over his brief career, Talbot has been tasked with the seemingly unenviable position of being backup to one of the greatest goaltenders in the world on one of the game's brightest stages. First, he was boldly called upon in 2013 in a move that effectively ended Martin Biron's career. He was dominant, if not sheltered a bit within a small sample and easier competition. This past season, however, the restrictor plates were necessarily removed. Asked to step up and take the reigns during Henrik Lundqvist's extended absence, Talbot was flat-out dominant. With little fanfare. With no pedigree to speak of other than the seal of approval from Benoit Allaire (which in itself might be the only pedigree that matters).
His is primarily a story of perseverance, perfect development from a world-class goaltending coaching staff, unwavering support from his franchise, and proving he belonged when the opportunity arose. Let's put sample sizes, and whether or not his numbers reflect the actual goaltender he is going forward, aside. Just for a moment, because we can afford to now that he is gone.
Cam Talbot was flipping unbelievable for the New York Rangers. I'm happy for him. He deserved everything he got. A solid contract extension. The off-season trade to a young team in need of bedrock in net. He deserves a chance to be a starter. And I honestly think he will be a quite capable one.
Which makes the lack of return that Sather and the Rangers got for him that much more confounding. There was a market for his services. Sather overplayed his hand. But what's done is done, and this article isn't all about that move, or even the future, really. I do think Antti Raanta will be a solid backup this coming season. And now there is a bit more room for the Mackenzie Skapski's of the world, when an opportunity presents itself. Which is cool.
But, man, I'm going to miss Cam.
I don't think Talbot's performance this season was smoke and mirrors. He is a refined goaltender, showing all the markings of Allaire's instruction. Economy of movement, relying on line of sight, positioning, and freeing up his stance and arms to react, instead of tightly balling up his stance as he did a bit more when he was younger. He is a different goaltender than Lundqvist, who stays farther back in his net than anyone else can, and is a marvel in his reflexes and reaction. But Talbot plays a very clean, very repeatable style. He anticipates well, squares up to most shots he can track and see, and as a result controls his rebounds. He rarely beats himself. All reports of his temperament say that he is easy-going and unflappable. Those are all things that contribute to consistency of performance. Attributes of a solid starting goaltender.
His performance over two seasons reflects that it wasn't a stout Rangers defense protecting him. In a smallish sample, he has been far superior to an average NHL goaltender. This season, he played 1689 minutes in 36 games. Still backup TOI, but approaching a starter's workload and with a large chunk of time from January through March where he was the only answer in town. He excelled:
Finishing 6th in the NHL in 5v5 adjGSAA/60 (min 1200 TOI), a statistical measure that shows how much better/worse he did than if an average NHL goalie were in his shoes and facing the same types of shots he faced, is nothing to sneeze at. He was stopping .235 more goals per 60 minutes than the average goalie would have in his place. Stretched out over an entire season, that is 19.27 more goals saved at even strength than average. That is a 1.985 goals against per 60 minutes over 82 games. The league average goals against per 60 at 5v5 was 2.22, and putting other game situations aside, this means he is winning the Rangers a ton of games.
Of course no goalie performing at that level is playing every minute of every game. But laying out the numbers shows just how staggeringly dominant he was in a smaller stretch than an average goalie would have been.
But like we say in the business: goalies are voodoo. I generally prescribe to a Bayesian approach to projecting skill, which accounts for how rare it would be to actually find a goalie who is as good as the goalie in question, and how rare it might be to see such performance in a random, small sample size. It generally means that true skill bares itself out over a greater sample size, because more shots gives us more confidence that our best estimation of performance is what has been observed. The range of possibilities (standard deviation) of performance gets narrower. In getting to a larger sample, there are decreasing levels of variability.
Talbot hasn't played a ton. He doesn't really even have what can be considered a full season's worth of time as a starter under his belt. The optics of his role and the small sample make it very difficult to say with any certainty that he is as great as he has been in his short time in the NHL. But isn't that the fun of it? For us, not GMs. He could fall apart next year. Or he could be even within a shade of his performance to date and be a very reliable NHL starter. My best guess is the latter. I'm rooting for him.
Without Cam Talbot, this team wasn't a first place team. Like Henrik Lundqvist, he covered up the ills of a very mediocre defense and gave his team a chance to win consistently when he was in net. He was asked to step up and play for a long stretch as the starting goaltender, with no true backup option, when Hank went down for an extended period. The guy was simply fantastic. And his goalie masks might be the best in the league.
What do you think?