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Cam Talbot deal has been Peter Chiarelli’s most important Oilers trade

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Of all the trades and signings made by Edmonton Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli in his two years at the helm, none has been more important than the 2015 draft day deal that installed Cam Talbot as the team’s starting goaltender.

Chiarelli has been getting a lot of credit for his work on that team’s heretofore unending rebuild, and understandably so. Yet in the general rush to re-litigate the Taylor Hall-for-Adam Larsson trade, the less controversial Talbot deal has been somewhat shortchanged.

That trade started as the third of three costly and significant additions at that draft intended to change Edmonton’s fortunes.

The first was the expenditure of the first overall pick on Connor McDavid, which was an obvious decision and a franchise-altering moment. The second was the investment of first- and second-round picks in Griffin Reinhart, a move which was Chiarelli’s first pass at landing a cheap, young cornerstone defenceman. One may permissibly draw a straight line between the failure of that trade and the sacrifice of Hall the next summer.

The third was the investment of a couple of lesser picks in Talbot. In exchange for late second- and third-round picks, Edmonton added a high-end starting goaltender.

edmonton oilers, nhl, cam talbot, stanley cup playoffs
As good as Edmonton Oilers goalie Cam Talbot was in the regular season, he’s been even better during playoffs. (Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

Chiarelli had other options in net that summer. Robin Lehner and Martin Jones were both dealt for first-round picks in the 2015 offseason. Eddie Lack and Antti Niemi were also dealt to teams looking for starters, while Thomas Greiss and Michal Neuvirth signed to less fanfare as nominal backups in early July.

The Lehner and Jones deals both worked out, while Greiss may have been the league’s best free agent acquisition that summer, but in Talbot the Oilers got both a great bargain and the man who right now looks to have been the best of those goalies.

Talbot’s debut with the team went well enough. He had some early struggles as he adjusted to the starter’s role, even temporarily losing his job to backup Anders Nilsson. By the end of the year, though, he’d played 56 games and posted a 0.917 save percentage, giving the Oilers their first competent No. 1 since Devan Dubnyk.

That save percentage improved incrementally this season, up to 0.919, but what really set Talbot apart from his peers was his schedule. He played 73 games for Edmonton. In the last five years, only one other goaltender (Braden Holtby, 2014-15) appeared in so many contests.

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It would have been a remarkable achievement for anyone, let alone a 29-year-old who had only once played more than 50 games in a season prior to his trade to the Oilers. It made him, along with McDavid, one of the two players most responsible for Edmonton’s return to the playoffs after a decade in the dark.

As good as he was in the regular season, though, Talbot has been even better in the playoffs. If the Oilers were to pick their playoff MVP today, he’d likely be the winner over fellow postseason standouts Leon Draisaitl and Oscar Klefbom. With the exception of an ugly Game 4 outing against the Sharks, he’s been brilliant.

It was Talbot who allowed Edmonton to find its offensive game against the Sharks, making 41 saves in the opener and following that up with back-to-back shutouts. It was Talbot who backstopped the team to a one-goal victory (along with a literally last-second empty-netter) in the decisive Game 6 against that team. And it was Talbot on Friday who made 39 saves to his opponent’s 21 in the 2-1 win that pushed the Oilers into a 2-0 series lead over the Ducks.

If the early going in this year’s playoffs has demonstrated anything, it’s that nothing is more important than goaltending over a short series.

Of the eight teams currently playing, six have starters with a save percentage north of 0.930. The exceptions are the ludicrously overpowered Washington Capitals (Braden Holtby, 0.919 SV%) and the Ducks, whose John Gibson exited the first round with a 0.926 save percentage and has seen that number fall to 0.915 after two games against Edmonton.

During the year, it was common to worry that Talbot’s extreme schedule would leave nothing in the tank for the playoffs. So far, he’s demonstrated that such concerns were groundless. Even after 70-odd starts in the regular season, Talbot’s been able to put up a 0.934 save percentage and backstop the Oilers to one playoff series win and a good start on a second.

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