A week ago, the Ottawa Senators had no shortage of goaltenders. Anton Forsberg, Matt Murray and Filip Gustavsson were all ready to go to work this fall, all signed to one way NHL contracts. The team claimed they might start the season with all three on their NHL roster. They had the quantity, but was the quality there?
Despite what they claimed publicly, they obviously felt that three goalies wasn’t ideal, and Murray’s contract was the one they most wanted to unload. Through injuries and inconsistent play, he simply wasn’t living up to the four-year, $25 million dollar deal he signed in 2020.
So on July 11th, the Sens traded Murray to Toronto, along with third and seventh-round draft picks. The deal pulled most of the goalie’s exorbitant contract off the Sens’ books (Sens retained 25%) and set up a more conventional roster, with the newly signed Forsberg as their clear number one for the moment and Gustavsson the obvious backup.
But neither goalie has ever held the full-time reins on those roles in the NHL. It might have worked out just fine, but it clearly carried risk. So GM Pierre Dorion mitigated a lot of that risk by trading Gustavsson to Minnesota last week for 35 year old veteran Cam Talbot.
The question now becomes, is Talbot here as an insurance policy behind Forsberg? Will it be a time share? Or is Talbot Ottawa’s new number one?
“Whatever kind of role they want me in is how I’m going to play it, but obviously I want to still play,” Talbot said in his Zoom call with the media last week. “I think I’ve got a lot of good hockey left in me and I can still play upwards of 50 to 55 games a year. And that’s what I’m going to push for. But you never know how things are going to play out. It’s a long year with a lot of travel…I still want the net as much as possible and I hope it’s going to be a good relationship between Anton and myself.”
With 397 NHL games played, Talbot has almost four times more experience than Forsberg. For most of last season, Talbot was the starter for the Wild, who finished fifth overall in the NHL. He played in 49 games, posting a 32-12-4 mark, and a 2.82 goals against average.
With true Stanley Cup aspirations, the Wild decided to go for it. In February, they acquired three-time champion Marc-Andre Fleury from Chicago for a second-round pick. That set up a time share situation in Minny and the competition agreed with Talbot, who closed the year with a record of 13-0-3. Having proven himself yet again, Talbot couldn’t have been happy when the Wild selected Fleury as their playoff starter, then lost in round one to the Blues. It ended up looking like the Wild tried to fix something that wasn’t broken.
Off-season trade talks picked up when Fleury re-signed with the Wild last week, getting a two deal. The Wild said they wanted to keep rolling with a platoon situation, presumably as they wait on their 2021 first-round pick Jesper Wallstedt to developing in the minors.
Talbot said of the trade, “Minnesota could have been another good situation moving forward. But that’s between myself and Billy (GM Bill Guerin) and everyone else. We had some conversations and both…I just kind of felt this might be best.”
“I have no ill will toward Minnesota. They gave me the opportunity again to be a starting goalie in the league and I can’t thank them enough.”
Talbot isn’t coming here to accept a backup role. If he didn’t do that in Minnesota behind a three-time Cup champion, he’s certainly not doing it here. Passed over completely in the NHL draft, Talbot has been a battler all the way along. To further highlight his character, the 6-foot-4 goalie had already endeared himself to Ottawa fans with his classy support for Craig Anderson back in 2016. Anderson had just shut out the Oilers in Edmonton. Anderson was making his first start since returning from a leave of absence to be with his wife, Nicholle, who had been recently diagnosed with cancer.
After being named the second star, Talbot lingered at the Oilers’ bench to applaud Anderson’s first star selection.
In almost every category, Talbot seems like Ottawa’s top option in goal this fall.
But the team loves the incumbent Forsberg – as a person, player and story. Earlier this year – after bouncing around the league for seven years – Forsberg was finally able to set down some roots with his young family, signing a 3-year deal with the Sens. While Ottawa’s other goalies combined for a dismal record of 11-25-3, the Sens went 22-17-4 when Forsberg was in the net. He was the one goalie the team trusted to show up and give them a chance every night.
Like Talbot, Forsberg was forced to battle a former Cup champion last season and responded extremely well. That bodes well for the notion of a high-end time share in Ottawa this fall. If the Sens make the playoffs next spring, which now looks a decent possibility, their starter in goal for Game One will be based entirely on performance, and not what happened years ago. May the best man win.
By Steve Warne | Faces Magazine