The Kings are Cam Talbot’s seventh NHL stop in 11 seasons.
“And, I think, five in the last six years,” the 36-year-old goaltender said, and yes, he's counting.
Talbot made his NHL debut with the New York Rangers in 2013 and then spent three-plus seasons in Edmonton, where he twice led the league’s goalies in games played. From there, he bounced around to Philadelphia, Calgary, Minnesota and Ottawa, where he reached a crossroads as a free agent last summer. His best option was a one-year contract that reunited him with Todd McLellan, the coach who had played him to the point of exhaustion in Edmonton but has nobly resisted the temptation to repeat that mistake.
After so many moves and a lot of practice selling homes he no longer needed, Talbot would like to put away his suitcases and make Los Angeles his last stop. He certainly made himself at home here during the first quarter of the season, compiling a 10-4-1 record, 2.02 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in 15 appearances, 14 of them starts.
“I love the group. It’s one of the tightest groups I’ve ever been a part of as far as in this dressing room,” he said the other day. “We have a lot of fun together on and off the ice and I think that’s one of the recipes for success. When you’re part of a group like this you really want to play hard for the guy next to you, and you can see that when guys are blocking shots in the last minute or two of games.
“Guys care about the guys next to them and you can see all the guys up on the bench when a guy scores, and they’re just as happy for that guy as they are when they get a goal. It’s always fun to be part of a group like that, and I would love nothing more than to finish out my career here, for sure.”
After a difficult and injury-marred season with Ottawa meant Talbot would have to prove himself and his durability all over again, he signed what he called a “show-me contract” with the Kings. They needed to supplement Pheonix Copley and to replace Joonas Korpisalo, who left for Ottawa as a free agent four months after the Kings acquired him from Columbus. Salary-cap restrictions meant they couldn't pay much.
Enter Talbot, who signed for $1 million plus a games-played bonus of $1 million that he has already met. He wanted a chance to play a lot, and to play for a winner. With a solid defensive structure around him, he has made that “show-me” contract look like a bargain.
“We’re very lucky to have him right now,” defenseman Mikey Anderson said. “He takes care of his body maybe better than anyone I’ve ever seen, and he’s a fun guy to have around. Awesome to have in the room. Added a lot of good energy and positive energy, which is good.”
With the Kings (13-4-3) about to plunge into the second quarter of the season by hosting Colorado on Sunday, the coaching staff met to evaluate each player’s performance to date. Talbot graded out with honors.
“Talbs at this point has exceeded expectations and has fit our group really well,” McLellan said. “Moving forward, we feel that Pheonix is really coming around, too. Over the last three or four starts he’s been outstanding and we think that will continue. So we think that we’ll have a tandem.”
That means Talbot won’t play in 73 regular-season games as he did in 2016-17, when he was worn out. “That was crazy,” he said of the season he led the NHL in games, shots against (2,117), saves (1,946), and minutes (4,294) before playing 799 pressure-packed playoff minutes in 13 games.
Nor will he duplicate his ironman run of 2017-18, when he played a league-high 67 of the 73 regular-season games for which he was healthy. “That’s almost a decade ago. We’re not going to run him 78. We ran out of games,” McLellan said. “We can’t even do it anymore.”
Not that Talbot minded when he started five straight games in late October and early November while Copley regrouped after a slow start.
“Most teams are going to that 1A-1B thing. There’s not too many clear-cut No. 1s anymore,” Talbot said. “I think it’s proven that guys that play between 50 and 55 games are fresher come playoff time and don’t burn out. The playoffs are a grind, as everybody knows, and to get all the way to the end you need everybody. I think that the pace I was going probably wasn’t realistic. He’s come in and played extremely well the last two games so it’s good to have that 1A-1B kind of rotation.”
Talbot can see the value of playing less now in hopes of playing deep into the playoffs later.
“Todd does like to ride his hot goalie when he plays well. I was hoping that would be the case again this year and it has been,” Talbot said. “But I think that at the same time, with Copper playing well again lately, it’s probably better off for everybody, for sanity, endurance, all that kind of thing. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, to the end of the season and probably a little better at my age to limit the workload a little bit when we can.”
Talbot, his wife Kelly, and their 7-year-old twins, Landon and Sloane, have settled in nicely here. The kids love climbing to the rooftop of their home every day to take pictures of Southern California sunsets, and they’re thriving in school. They’d always been in the same classes because moving so often put them in situations that might have made them uncomfortable, but they’re in separate classes now. “They’ve taken on new little identities and it’s fun to see as a parent,” he said.
This will be a place they make lasting memories. He hopes this stop, with a team he considers a Stanley Cup contender, will be his last.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind,” he said, “but happy to have landed here and I’m just trying to take advantage of the opportunity I’ve been given here, and I want to keep playing well for these guys.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.