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The Great Cam Talbot Debate

Lundqvist understudy Cam Talbot: who said having too many elite goaltenders was a bad thing?

Lundqvist understudy Cam Talbot: who said having too many elite goaltenders was a bad thing?

Between Rangers and Oilers fans, the gulf in expectations over Cam Talbot’s trade value couldn’t be any wider.

Since rumors were floated that Edmonton was willing to trade the 16th overall pick for Talbot, both fanbases have been losing their collective minds. The consensus among Oilers fans in the comments sections and fan forums that I peruse (including TSN, The Hockey News, MyNHLTradeRumors, and the Hockey’s Future boards) is that trading anything above the 33rd overall pick would be massive overpayment for Talbot, and even trading the second rounder is a point of contention.

Opinions among Rangers fans are much more varied, ranging from “that sounds good to me” to “Hell no! Cam is worth a 1st rounder and prospects!” to “DO NOT TRADE OUR BACKUP GOALTENDER! HE’S TOO IMPORTANT!”

The reality is that one way or another, Talbot will be traded on or before Draft Day, and it’s clear that one team’s fanbase is going to be outraged.

Probably Edmonton’s.

But for those Rangers fans with through-the-roof expectations for Cam’s trade return, you all need to step back from the Playstation, and realize that your video game trade proposals will not work in the real world.

You also need to check your ideas on the importance of backup goaltenders, because you’re wrong.

All this and more will be explained in a little fictional Q&A I drew up to aid anybody who has plunged head first into the Cam Talbot trade debate without a pair of swimmies.

First off, what Is Cam Talbot’s actual trade value?

The short and honest answer to this question is what your college Microeconomics professor would tell you: whatever the market is willing to pay.

Was acquiring Scott Gomez worth trading hot prospect Ryan McDonagh for the Montreal Canadiens? No. But Canadiens’ GM Bob Gainey got it into his head that Gomez was the answer to the Habs’ problems finding a playmaker up the middle, and that combined with a sprinkling of doubt over McDonagh’s development led to one of the most lopsided deals in recent NHL history.

With that in mind, multiple sources have confirmed that Talbot is indeed the most sought-after goaltender on the market right now, and is being chased hard by Edmonton, San Jose, Buffalo, Florida and Dallas, all of which possess a combination of multiple first round and high second round draft picks and deep farm systems. It’s not difficult to imagine one or more of those teams’ GMs talking themselves into a lopsided trade, given the circumstances.

Still, based on similar goaltender trades going back a few years, we can get a sense of Talbot’s floor value assuming a bad market.

Let’s start from the highest comparison. In 2013, Cory Schneider was traded at age 27 from the Canucks to the Devils for the 9th over pick in the 2013 draft (Vancouver selected Bo Horvath, their best prospect to date). Schneider had played 98 NHL games to that point, posting an insanely high .927 SP% with 9. In 10 NHL playoff games, he garnered a .922 SP%, though he only started six of those games and went 1-5. For his six starts, it is estimated that four were Quality Starts. Over three seasons in the AHL, his SP% was .921, and .922 in the playoffs. Schneider was also the 26th overall pick in 2004, so in addition to eye-popping stats at every professional level, he had the pedigree to match. There was no doubt about his skill level or ability to be a long-term starter.

At the time of his trade, Schneider had two seasons left on his contract at a cap hit of $4 million.

Talbot, 28, has played 57 NHL games posting a .931 SP%, .934 at even-strength, and 8 shutouts. His playoff experience has been limited to 2 games, with an unimpressive .826 SP%, though he came in to relieve Henrik Lundqvist both times. He essentially has a clean playoff slate.

Undrafted and signed out of College Hockey America’s University of Alabama in Huntsville, Talbot posted fairly mediocre numbers in both the CHA and in the AHL playing for the Wolfpack. His career AHL SP% is .914. It is clear that in comparison to Schneider and others such as Jonathan Bernier, Talbot does not have the type of pedigree that would put talent evaluators at ease when trying to project his long-term output as an NHL starter. Even Henrik Lundqvist, a 2000 7th round draft pick, put up big numbers in Sweden’s Elite league, establishing himself as the premiere European goalie before coming over to the NHL. Talbot’s progress came out of nowhere. Pedigree might not mean much at the end of the day, but it leaves the window of possibility open that Talbot’s success with the Rangers was a short-term phenomenon.

With a year left on his contract at a cap hit of just over half a million dollars, Talbot is a cap-friendly acquisition who can be resigned as early as January. Teams should not be warded off by the term of his contract, as the likelihood of Talbot going to a bad team is good, and the probable decline in statistical output he would experience would hurt his bargaining power as a UFA next summer.

He also risks injury or some other developmental hiccup, and for a 28 year old goaltender who was expected to be a career minor leaguer, the opportunity to sign a lucrative extension as a starter for an NHL team is too good to pass up for a big money UFA gamble. Talbot could easily get a 5-year $20 million contract by January with another solid half-season under his belt.

There is no doubt that Schneider was the more attractive acquisition at the time, but Talbot isn’t that far off.

At age 24, with a career NHL SP% of .912 in 62 games played, Jonathan Bernier was traded in 2013 from the Kings to the Maple Leafs for Ben Scrivens (at the time, a good goalie prospect), Matt Frattin, and a second-round pick. While Bernier was coming off an impressive season as Jonathan Quick’s backup, his NHL numbers were not nearly as good as Talbot’s are now. Bernier’s advantage was in age, pedigree (he was the 11th overall pick in 2006), and prior level performance (his numbers at every other level of competition were notably higher than Talbot’s). NHL experience is still what counts, so I am comfortable labeling Talbot the hotter commodity in comparison to Bernier in 2013, and the Kings received quite a package.

Ben Bishop, a third round draft pick with poor AHL stats and bad to mediocre numbers in 36 NHL games between two teams, was considered a promising young goaltender when he was dealt in 2013 at age 26 from Ottawa to Tampa Bay for Cory Conacher.and a 4th round draft pick. Though Conacher would go on to fizzle out, at the time he was in the midst of an impressive rookie season, scoring 24 points in 35 games for the Lightning and finishing 6th in the Calder Trophy vote. At the time, it was considered a fair deal.

Ben Scrivens and Devan Dubnyk, two young goaltenders with upside who had yet to put up consistently good NHL numbers, played on multiple teams and recently went for third round picks to the Oilers and Wild respectively. Though Dubnyk became a world-beater for the Wild and Scrivens struggled in Edmonton, neither goalie was a hot commodity at the time of their trade.

The next closest comparison to Talbot I could find was Jaroslav Halak, who was traded in 2010 at age 25 from Montreal to St. Louis for Lars Eller, a top NHL prospect who was drafted 13th overall in 2007, along with a non-roster played named Ian Schultz. At the time, Halak was coming off a monster playoff run where he lead the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Finals while recording a .923 SP% over 18 games. In 101 NHL games to that point, Halak had a .919 SP% and impressive minor-pro stats.

So it is clear that Schneider and Halak, both of whom went for a top pick or high-end prospect, had past performances that were in a tier just above Talbot’s, at slightly younger ages.

Talbot should also be evaluated far above Scrivens and Dubnyk at the time of their trades. Realistically, his floor value is more in line with what the Kings received for Jonathan Bernier, and Talbot comes in with much more impressive NHL numbers than Bernier had.

Considering the high demand for Talbot (as many or more teams that were competing to acquire Bernier, if I remember correctly), it is fair to estimate his minimum return at two second rounders and a low prospect or roster player. He is also the undisputed top goalie trade option, as Robin Lehner had a down season with Ottawa, and Martin Jones and Eddie Lack were not quite as impressive with their respective teams (Los Angeles and Vancouver) as Talbot was with the Rangers.

YOU KIDDING ME BRO?? We might as well keep him!

Why would the Rangers do that? It’s a guarantee that the team would lose him in free agency, as we have Henrik Lundqvist for the long term (please don’t propose a Lundqvist trade, it’s ridiculous and hurts my head). Talbot is not a young man, and has played well enough to earn a starting job now. His trade value will never be higher than it is now. It would surely lower at the trade deadline, when playoff bound teams mostly look to acquire forwards, and would pay less for half a season of Talbot than a young up-and-coming team like Buffalo or Edmonton would pay for a guaranteed full season. The Rangers also risk Talbot getting injured or not performing well, which would decimate his value.

Some have proposed keeping him as insurance in the event that Hank goes down, especially in light of Mackenzie Skapski’s injury. My question is: do you really believe there is such a thing as Lundqvist insurance? 20-30 regular season games is one thing, but if Hank is seriously injured, the chances that Talbot steps in and performs equal to the task during his first playoff run are low. You don’t just replace the type of playoff performances Hank has given us over the past four seasons. If we miss Hank for the playoffs, kiss the season goodbye.

But let’s not be dramatic. Until last year’s freak injury, Hank had never missed considerable time over his 10 year career. As a Rangers fan, I am not willing to sacrifice a very good return in assets on Talbot on the off-chance that Hank misses half the season or more. Besides that, backup goaltenders are not so important that you pass up the chance to cash in on a good one via trade.

Ask yourselves this: when was the last time the Rangers were missing a quality backup? From Kevin Weekes, to Steven Valiquette, to Martin Biron, Talbot and even Skapski, the Rangers have never failed to find an adequate backup. Having a backup capable of posting a .930 SP% is a vanity, not a necessity. It’s the difference between winning a President’s Trophy and getting the 6th seed, aka not worth losing Talbot for nothing.

The suggestion that somehow Skapski’s injury means that the Rangers can’t trade Talbot is also ludicrous. Are we talking about the same Mackenzie Skapski who played a total of two NHL games against the Buffalo Sabres? Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice pair of performances and led me to believe that he might be a good backup option, but he’s the most easily replaceable asset on the team. Hartford’s Yann Danis is just as good, and cheap UFA options like Karri Ramo and Michael Neuvirth are out there.

The Rangers also have stud goalie prospects Brandon Halverson and Igor Shestyorkin, in case any of you were worried about the future. Forget the players, though. We have the best goaltending asset in the league and he’s not even in net: Goaltending Coach Benoit Allaire, the man who helped Lundqvist develop into what he is, along with Cam Talbot, Sean Burke, and a number of other goalies. Allaire works with our minor league goalies as well, including Danis and Skapski. He ensures that we get the most out of our guys in net.

Regardless, backup goalie is the least important position on the team, our starter is a horse who also happens to Henrik Lundqvist, and Talbot has no chance to be NYR’s regular starter. Therefore, given his impending UFA status and awesome trade value, he must be dealt. It’s not even a matter of opinion: he will be dealt this week at some point.

OK fine. We trade him to Edmonton, but I want a first-rounder, a prospect, AND Nail Yakupov! And if it’s Buffalo, I want their low first rounder, Mikhail Grigorenko, and that Zadurov guy!

While you’re at it, why don’t just ask for Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel?

Look, some of you out there are acting like we’re holding on to Patrick Roy in the Summer of ’86, coming off his playoff run when he single-handedly won the Habs the Cup as a rookie. Talbot’s trade value is high, but I assure you, when he goes, it will not be announced by Glen Sather at a press conference as Peter Pocklington stands in the background with empty pockets hanging out of his pants.

Try and see this from the other team’s perspective. Would you give up the 16th overall pick in the deepest draft in over a decade, PLUS a player as supremely talented as Nail Yakupov, for Cam Talbot? Come on.

Alright, so what would you do?

Personally, as long as the Rangers land a high second rounder (like the 33rd overall owned by the Oilers) plus another two picks outside of the second round, and/or a good prospect, I’m happy. We will have turned a nobody playing in Huntsville, Alabama into a seriously good collection of draft assets at a time when we need to recoup them. That is outstanding by any measure.

Given the demand, however, I think we can do better.

What is the Rangers’ biggest need that cannot be readily filled by the farm system? That would be a sniping winger who can replace Martin St. Louis’ goal totals at half the age and a fraction of the cap hit, with more speed and perhaps a touch more physicality. Not an easy asset to locate without giving up key roster players in return.

Along with Cam Talbot, who is the Rangers’ most tradeable contract, that could be most easily replaced from within? That’s Kevin Klein. Yes, he did a great job for us last season, but from a speed and possession perspective, Matt Hunwick is better and probably cheaper if we re-sign him as a UFA. Klein is a stay-at-home defenseman who shot way above his career shooting percentage to record 8 goals on the season, and had a poor playoff performance after returning from injury. Hunwick can slide into his role with either Brady Skjei or Dylan McIlrath assuming the 7th D spot. We all love Klein, but Hunwick played extremely well down the stretch as an injury replacement, and there are too many good young defensemen knocking on the door in our system.

Paired together in a trade, Talbot and Klein would warrant a first round pick in a deep draft, and possibly be enough to get us Yakupov straight up. Why Yakupov? Because he is a sniper with blazing speed, creativity, and play making skills who turned up the heat at the end of last season. He was the first overall pick a number of years ago, and despite some sophomore year struggles, was impressive as a rookie and seemed to right his ship as of late. On a team like the Rangers, full of experienced, battle-tested players, and coaches who have guided many promising young players to reach at or above their potential, Yakupov could be dangerous and possibly a game-breaking as a 1B threat behind Rick Nash.

If the Rangers could spin Benoit Pouliot, Anton Stralman, and Brian Boyle into gold, they can certainly do it for a player as infinitely talented as Yakupov.

Then again, the Oilers might not be interested in trading him anymore. There is always Jordan Eberle and Taylor Hall, but both players come with high salaries and would require more pieces to be added to the package. Yakupov comes cheap at under $3 million.

Along the same line of logic, a trade with Buffalo involving Mikhail Grigorenko would make sense, but it would likely have to include Klein. Talbot and Klein might only get us Grigorenko and second rounder, at best. You might shake your head and say, “Grigorenko! He’s a bust and they say he’s going to the KHL!” But again, these are examples of other teams’ most valued talent. It’s going to cost the Rangers if they wish to acquire young talent with incredibly high ceilings, even if that talent has had bumps in their development road. Is anybody surprised that the Oilers and Sabres aren’t the best organizations in which to develop talent?

San Jose GM Doug Wilson has gone on record as saying he open to trading the 9th overall pick, but it might take more than Talbot and Klein to get it in my estimation. There are some seriously good players available at 9, guys who could alter the course of a franchise. San Jose also owns the 39th pick. It is possible that the Rangers wind up trading them for that and their fourth rounder, or a prospect. Same with the Sabres’ 31st, the Oilers’ 33rd, or the Stars’ 49th overall picks combined with lower round picks and/or players.

To the casual fan, it might not seem like much, but this truly is one of the better drafts in recent history. The first round is littered with potential stars, and there is high-end talent expected to be available throughout the second round. If the Rangers wound up trading for the 33rd overall, for example, we might be able to pick up a player like Russia’s Denis Guryanov, who would be a top 10 pick in any other draft if not for 2015’s depth (and the fact that he plays int he KHL – he is the #7 ranked European skater, but is expected to fall to or near the second round).

Whoever the Rangers acquire, it may not be a player that can help us this year. But if trading our 27 year old backup goaltender can allow us to draft a future top-six winger or better, then mark me down as ‘Yay’.

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