Editors Note: article was updated following the Rangers trade of Cam Talbot to Edmonton for three draft picks
One of the things that fans struggle with is player value. They tend to overvalue the players they have become emotionally attached to while undervaluing the assets of others. So expectations become a stark contrast to reality. This type of emotional investment is what fuels the sports machine.
This is the type of atmosphere that surrounds the Cam Talbot trade. The pre-trade hype machine raised fan expectation to first round heights, when in reality the negotiating space for Rangers GM Glen Sather was likely starting from the second round. With the Rangers investing in Henrik Lundqvist through the 2020-21 season, the time to make a deal is now. If Talbot recorded another season like the one he just had (21-9-4, .926 SV%, 2.21 GAA), the Rangers would still appear hesitant to hand him the starter role and he’d command a raise as a backup. With unrestricted free agent (UFA) status approaching next summer, the Rangers’ asking price on the trade market for Talbot would not have increased much because other general managers don’t like to pay for goaltending.
Goalies are undervalued assets by other general managers. Since the lockout, the returns on goaltending has been minimal and consists mostly of a draft pick or goalie-for-goalie swaps (Ryan Miller fit into both as he was traded for Jaroslav Halak and a combination of draft picks). Roberto Luongo has been traded a couple of times, but even those returns were essentially a worn/broken Todd Bertuzzi or fading prospects with Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias the return.
Focusing on only goaltender deals that involved draft picks, I charted them vs. a goaltender’s minutes played. The only goaltender with the same limited amount of NHL experience as Talbot that returned a first round pick was Semyon Varlamov. It was a very high return, but at the time of the deal Varlamov was only 23-years-old and just approaching his peak seasons. The Colorado Avalanche overpaid, but did so acquiring a goaltender who they would control for his prime. The other first rounders were paid out for Dwayne Roloson, Cory Schneider, Robin Lehner yesterday and the Toronto Maple Leafs crazed for Vesa Toskala. The general return on a player like Talbot is a second to third rounder.
The Edmonton Oilers were unlikely to unload a first-rounder ith their regular involvment in the NHL Lottery process. Missing on a goaltender with the 25th pick is a much different sell than doing so with a lottery pick. Historically, teams don’t like to give up first round picks for goaltenders.
The question becomes should they?
It is difficult to expect anybody to give up a high price for a goaltender who has never had the run as a full-time starter and through his 27 age season has faced only 1,600 shots. The sample size to assess is still open to being poisoned through luck or being placed behind a strong team and a save percentage inflating system.
I like Edmonton’s approach to finding a goaltender. They have made some low-cost gambles when they brought Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasthfor for third-rounders. It isn’t the worst way to attempt to acquire goaltending when the league wide assessment is still so poorly exectued. We only need to look at the action from the first two days of the NHL Draft to see how widely different goaltenders are evaluated through the Lehner/Lack/Talbot market.
An issue is the lack of understanding of the NHL middle class and how far that middle is from the top of the class where Lundqvist and Carey Price reside. You don’t need elite goaltending to win the Stanley Cup anymore and middle class guys like Devan Dubnyk can look horrific when exposed or heroic when their flaws are covered.
So if you don’t draft a goaltender, the best way to acquire one is to poach one from an organization that has an excess and is forced into undervaluing them because it is senseless to pay two guys starters money. When one guy shows signs of being paid, he becomes available.
Two recent examples are Cory Schneider and Ben Scrivens who were stuck behind monster contracts to Roberto Luongo and Jonathan Quick. Comparing their age 26/27 seasons against Talbot showed that Talbot is flirting with the upper class of Schneider through his 1,600-shot sample.
I went into my scouting process expecting Talbot to have been propped up by backup minutes and a strong defense, but I was pleasantly surprised by the way he manages his depth and tracks the puck. One of the biggest red flags I have for a goaltender is the way he reads the play and drops or guesses on plays. It generally shows up in their clean save percentage. When a goaltender can set and see a shot, the Osgood line (average goaltender) is .950. Talbot is well above that at .954, which is important because goaltenders face 85% or more of these shots during a season. His sky high save percentage is the result of his 70%-plus success rate on plays across the royal road and close to 80% success rate on tipped shots and rebound opportunities. These numbers will drop as even elite guys like Carey Price and Lundqvist have never been able to maintain this type of success long term.
For a player with Talbot’s lack of experience, I found him tracking pre-shot movement very well and rarely chasing or getting caught behind the play. These are all encouraging signs of a solid middle class guy who you can win with in the NHL with a nice sample of elite success that is worth the gamble for. The Oilers paid the historical market cost and for them it is a worthwhile risk.
So while fans were pushing for a first round pick the actual return is prefectly in line with the goaltending market. Glen Sather’s hands were tied with Talbot’s UFA status approaching and their commitment to Lundqvist. And while Lehner did fetch a 1st, there was a history between Sabres GM Tim Murry with the Senators which likely had an impact on his willingness to pay a premium.
The Rangers were never going to have more leverage than they currently did and came close to maxing out their return.