10 thoughts about the Cam Talbot for Anthony Stolarz trade

Did the Flyers give up on Stolarz too quickly? Can Talbot find his mojo out of Edmonton? Those, plus some more thoughts about Chucky’s Midnight Goalie Swap.

After a couple of days’ worth of rumors linking goalie Cam Talbot to Philadelphia, the Flyers finally made their move right at the stroke of midnight on Saturday, bringing in Talbot from Edmonton in exchange for Anthony Stolarz. The trade was a straight up, player-for-player swap, with no picks or salary considerations changing hands either way.

While not a huge move, this is a swap that has meaningful reverberations for the Flyers in both the short and long-term. With some time to digest it, here are some more thoughts on Chuck Fletcher’s first NHL-level player-for-player swap as general manager of the Flyers.

1. It’s easy to root for Anthony Stolarz, and hopefully things work out for him whether it’s in Edmonton or somewhere else. He was the first real goalie prospect drafted in this era of Flyers hockey, and while it’s easy to forget it, he was seen as the potential goalie of the future as recently as early 2017 prior to his first knee surgery. The back-to-back operations on his knee basically cost him the entire 2017-18 season, and coming into this year he was on the verge of being an afterthought with all of the other goalies under contract with the team.

That he has a chance to really put things back together is awesome, and he’s earned it. And on an Oilers team that’s lacking great options in net, he should get some chances to show what he can do over the remainder of this season. Best of luck to him.

So then, why trade him for a 31-year old pending unrestricted free agent goalie? Well ...

2. It was always going to be tough to piece together a potential long-term role for Stolarz with the team as soon as it became clear that Carter Hart was not just the team’s goalie of the future but of the present. Sure, there was some optimism about Stolarz as recently as earlier this season. I would know, I had some of that optimism.

But even earlier this season when he was playing well, the hope was that maybe he could be part of a short-term goaltending solution that helped you bridge the gap to Carter Hart. And at that time, it was tough to envision that Hart was going to get called up in mid-December and then immediately prove that he was ready for the NHL. The acceleration of Hart’s timeline made it tough to find where Stolarz fit in the long term plans. Consider that ...

3. The Flyers were never going to go into next season with Stolarz as Hart’s backup. Look, I like Carter Hart. And I think he’s going to be good next year once again, maybe not quite to the extent he has been this year but certainly enough to be considered a solid starting goalie.

But no team in the NHL was going to back up a 21-year old starter with a goalie that had 20-something NHL games and two fairly recent knee surgeries to his name. Even with a goalie like Hart, who is shattering all realistic expectations for what a goalie his age can do in this league, there’s a lot of projection involved with guys this young. As soon as the Flyers were able to say with confidence that Carter Hart was their goalie going forward, the backup goalie position became one in which the team probably was looking for stability more than it was even more projection, which is what Stolarz would’ve been.

And when you consider that Stolarz was likely going to be an unrestricted free agent this summer (he would’ve needed to play in at least 10 of the Flyers’ final 25 games to remain a restricted free agent, and was that really going to happen with how things are going for Hart right now?), there was a pretty good chance that Stolarz was going to get offers from other teams that could maybe give him more of a real shot at a backup role than the Flyers would’ve been able to. Getting a trial run of a potential new goalie (more on him in a moment) is a decent return given the situation.

4. All in all, the upside/downside balance here is a reasonable one. A realistic best-case scenario for this trade is that Talbot pulls things together, signs on as a backup for another couple of years, and gives the Flyers steadiness in net behind Hart while they wait and see if any of the next wave of goalie prospects (Felix Sandstrom, Samuel Ersson, Kirill Ustimenko) turn into something. A worst-case outlook would probably involve Talbot either walking in free agency this summer or sticking around but turning back into a pumpkin, while Stolarz does turn into a steady goalie for Edmonton and the Flyers end up having given up that guy for nothing. That’s an acceptable tradeoff for the Flyers, particularly since — as we’ve established — it was tough to find a scenario in which Stolarz was on the Flyers next year.

There’s been some consternation among Flyers fans and observers asking why the Flyers weren’t able to get a draft pick or some other compensation from the Oilers in exchange for helping them out from a salary cap perspective. Edmonton needed to shed salary to make room on their roster for defenseman Andrej Sekera, and this trade gave them the flexibility to do just that.

The reason the Flyers weren’t able to get more in the deal is simple: they got the safer, more proven, and in all likelihood the outright better goaltender in the deal. That’s the value in the deal for the Flyers. In all, for them, this trade is much more about what Talbot may or may not become than it is about the potential missed opportunity cost of what Stolarz could have been for this team. So with that, let’s talk about the new guy.

5. How much of a difference does a change of scenery make? That the Edmonton Oilers are a bit of a mess is not really news to anyone. Their failure to build a team around the best player currently in hockey is borderline criminal, and the partial house-cleaning that has taken place there over the course of this season has, in all likelihood, not gone far enough. It’s easy to ask whether escaping that kind of environment will help any player, particularly one whose track record at the NHL level was outstanding prior to last season.

With that said, situational context doesn’t seem like the sole explanation for Cam Talbot’s struggles. Corsica.hockey’s Goals Saved Above Average stat, which weights goalie performance by shot quality and expected goals faced by a given goaltender, says that Talbot has saved about 12.35 fewer goals this year than would be expected across all situations. That’s bad — in fact, it’s the fourth-worst mark of any goalie in the NHL this year. It’s easy to see how he managed to lose his job to Mikko Koskinen and fall out of Edmonton’s plans.

However, this is also the first season of Talbot’s entire career in which he’s been below-average by this number, including his seasons in New York as a backup behind Henrik Lundqvist. And he’s two years removed from a legitimate near-Vezina-caliber season (he finished fourth in the voting for the award in 2016-17). This may be less about escaping from Edmonton and more about just buying low in general.

6. Or maybe it’s about finding a more suitable role for Talbot as he gets older. Talbot turns 32 in July. Maybe he has more years as a starter in him, but he may be at the point in his career where he’s best served playing in 25-30 games. After all, we know Talbot can succeed in that kind of a role. He put himself on the map in New York in 2013-15, when he was one of the NHL’s best backups.

Given that, and knowing that the potential veteran options out there in unrestricted free agency this coming summer are, ah ...

... not great, this seems like as good of an opportunity as any for the Flyers to find a backup. And since Talbot was probably going to be in tough to find a starter’s role next year after his struggles this season, he figured to be in the backup market this summer. In making this trade, the Flyers are getting a jump on that market, test-driving one of its best options.

Who knows how things will go with the number of options the Flyers theoretically still have in net, but it seems likely Talbot will get about one-third or so of the Flyers’ remaining games, and they can use that time to see how he fares in that role, even if it’s probably a smaller sample than they’d like to be able to work with.

7. Could Talbot play his way out of the Flyers’ plans? Is there any possible scenario in which Talbot plays so well in these last few games (however many it may be) that he gets some other teams to believe that he’s washed that Oilers stench off of him and is fully back to what he was prior to this year? In that case, does Talbot price his way out of the range the Flyers were hoping to be able to pay him?

It’s a little bit of a catch-22 for these final two months of the season, for sure. If he plays well, he’ll cost them more and get more attention elsewhere; if he doesn’t play well, you’re forced to ask yourself if you really want to bring him back. You wonder how proactive the Flyers are going to be in trying to re-sign him, though so far ...

8. The Flyers haven’t committed to giving Talbot anything. Sportsnet’s John Shannon tweeted out the following tidbit after the trade:

The wording here is a little ambiguous, but our interpretation is that Shannon believes Talbot will essentially be “in competition” with the other four non-Carter Hart goalies currently under Flyers control (those being Brian Elliott, Michal Neuvirth, Mike McKenna, and Alex Lyon). From a distance, it feels pretty hard to imagine any of those guys other than Lyon being with the organization next year (and it feels hard to imagine Lyon being Hart’s backup on the NHL team), but it certainly doesn’t seem like the team is married to the idea of giving Talbot an extension.

Chuck Fletcher essentially said as much while speaking with the media before today’s game, promising nothing other than that Talbot will get a chance to show what he can do when asked about a potential extension.

And that’s the right mentality here. The Flyers need to figure out their backup goalie situation, and Talbot will get the first chance to show he can be their answer.

9. How much does Talbot’s relationship with Hart matter? One aspect of this trade that’s been mentioned is the relationship that the Flyers’ newest acquisition has with the guy who’s quickly becoming one of their most important players. Talbot and Carter Hart work out together in the offseason, and they’ve become good friends recently. Talbot apparently was the one that Hart called the night before his NHL debut back in December, and Hart called Talbot an “elite goaltender in the NHL for a while” last month in an article with the Courier-Post’s Dave Isaac.

It’s tough to exactly quantify how much having a friendly face matters. It’s not like bringing in both Schenns made the two of them become superheroes, or having Jason Akeson around is what made Claude Giroux elite. Chances are, our memories of the Cam Talbot era, however long it may last, will be more about what he does on the ice than what he does for Hart. But for a 21-year old who’s still figuring things out, at a position where there’s just so much projection and uncertainty? It can’t hurt to have around a guy that clearly means a lot to him, and will push him to be even better.

10. Let’s appreciate the absurdity of this moment. Talbot will likely start for the Flyers at some point soon, perhaps even on Sunday in Detroit. When that happens, the Flyers will set an NHL record: no other team in the history of the NHL has played eight different goalies in one season. Thanks to injuries, ineffectiveness, bad risks taken, and one good risk taken, the Flyers have had more goalie churn this year than any team in the storied history of this league. (Also, we should note: there are still seven weeks in the season. Plenty of time to pick up one or two more and buttress that lead.)

Nothing is more Flyers than that fact. And yet, somehow, despite playing more goalies in a season than any team ever, the Flyers are going to leave this season feeling better about their long-term goaltending situation than they have in decades. It’s nice that we’re spending all of this time worrying about who the backup is going to be rather than the starter.