The Wild is used to being on a player’s revival tour, but typically the team is part of the opening act instead of the grand finale.
Not this time.
After losing his job as a starting goaltender in the NHL and then bouncing back last season to become Calgary’s playoff MVP, Cam Talbot earned a three-year, $11 million contract from the Wild on Friday to be its next No. 1 in net.
“I just want to reward that confidence, and I’m looking forward to that challenge,” Talbot said.
Securing a goalie was the team’s top priority after it traded away longtime starter Devan Dubnyk, who established himself as an All-Star after the Wild obtained him in 2015, earlier in the week.
While it’s possible General Manager Bill Guerin continues to monitor the trade market before next season starts, Talbot’s acquisition essentially capped off the Wild’s roster makeover.
He joins Marcus Johansson, Nick Bjugstad and Nick Bonino, who have replaced Mikko Koivu, Dubnyk, Luke Kunin and Eric Staal, who also rejuvenated his career in Minnesota.
“We are comfortable with where we are,” Guerin said. “The last couple of weeks have been very productive. We have been working really hard leading up to the draft, and I thought we had a successful draft. I think we had a successful free agency and … we checked a lot of boxes. I like the way we stand right now.”
Despite being the last of those new faces to settle in, Talbot is among the most important.
An undrafted goalie out of Alabama-Huntsville, the 33-year-old Ontario native broke into the NHL with the Rangers as Henrik Lundqvist’s backup in 2013.
When it became clear he was ready for more responsibility, Edmonton traded for him and although he did fine in his debut season, he was magnificent in Year 2.
“That’s when I’m at my best is when I’m playing the most,” Talbot said.
Not only did he help the Oilers to their first playoff appearance in 11 years, but his 42 wins in 2016-17 were tied for the most in the league. He banked another 30-plus wins the next season, but Talbot’s play dipped in 2018-19 and he was traded to Philadelphia.
He signed a one-year deal with Calgary before last season to right his career, and he did just that. After starting the season as the Flames’ No. 2 option and playing sporadically, Talbot installed a gym at his home during the pandemic and continued to train.
And when Calgary regrouped for the postseason, Talbot was the one to earn the nod in net for the qualifiers against Winnipeg and first-round series against Dallas. He kept his goals-against average to 2.42 and posted a strong .924 save percentage while recording two shutouts as the Flames’ best player during their 5-5 run before getting eliminated by the Stars. He went 12-10-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average and .919 save percentage in the regular season.
“I kind of bet on myself with that one-year deal,” said Talbot, who’s back home in Ancaster, Ontario. “I knew that people had kind of written me off, but I wasn’t done yet and I knew that I could still play at a high level. So, it’s very rewarding that I was able to prove that.”
When he hit the open market, the Wild had Talbot circled — what Guerin called an “easy choice” after the team pored over his data, remembered his previous success as a starter and watched his resurrection in the playoff bubble.
“We just feel like with what Cam did last year, if he does that or better, we are going to have some success,” said Guerin, who felt the Wild would be a compelling landing spot in a deep goalie market considering it had a No. 1 opening and offers a stout defense.
“Playing behind a very, very structured, very well defensive team is obviously a dream for a goalie,” Talbot said. “So, I’m looking forward to it.”
The Wild offered Talbot a two- or three-year deal, and Talbot opted for the security of a longer deal that doesn’t have any protections in it ahead of next year’s expansion draft. He and his wife, Kelly, have 4-year-old twins, and Kelly already has been in touch with their friends who live in Minnesota.
Talbot is also familiar with Mats Zuccarello from their time in New York, and Talbot has represented Canada alongside Matt Dumba at the World Championships.
He’s likely to get to know Alex Stalock very well, as Stalock is poised to return to the team’s backup role after his career year last season helped the team stay afloat. That tandem checks in at a very reasonable $4.5 million cap hit.
Even though Guerin has said there will be a competition among Stalock and prospect Kaapo Kahkonen, Talbot’s arrival allows the Wild to take its time grooming Kahkonen and he could spend most of the season in the minors alongside Hunter Jones after Mat Robson wasn’t re-signed.
“The last thing we want to do is rush him along,” Guerin said of Kahkonen, who is an unsigned restricted free agent.
“I’m not saying he can’t play or won’t play. That’s not the case, but we’re not forced to do anything. I think that’s really important when it comes to the development of a goalie.”
It’s a process Talbot knows well, putting the work in to progress, and now he’ll get the chance to showcase the dividends of that effort while returning to the NHL’s exclusive club of No. 1 netminders.
“I knew that I never lost that ability,” Talbot said. “So, it was just getting back and regaining my form and I was able to do that last year in Calgary and they gave me the opportunity to do so and then gave me the opportunity to play in the playoffs and show that I can be a big-time goalie when you needed it.”