Offseason headache: Wild must repair their relationship with Cam Talbot or trade him

Offseason headache: Wild must repair their relationship with Cam Talbot or trade him

ST. LOUIS — Shelving Cam Talbot for the first five games of the Wild’s first-round series against the Blues may have lingering effects in what’s bound to be a busy, headache-filled offseason.

We all know Kevin Fiala could potentially be on the move this summer. That was true even before he went completely MIA in the playoffs.

But a few months ago, we never could have anticipated that the Wild would be in a position where they potentially could be forced to move on from the player who has been their No. 1 goalie the past two seasons.

Now, after trading for Marc-André Fleury at the deadline and then playing him over Talbot in the playoffs until they needed to make a change to try to force a Game 7, it’s going to be a tall task for the Wild to ask Talbot to let bygones be bygones and clear his head in time for next season. Pretending nothing happened isn’t an option.

As he said Thursday night, he was “pissed,” and clearly based on her Twitter posts after the 5-1 loss, so was his wife, Kelly.

There’s no way around it: Despite Talbot going 13-0-3 in his final 16 regular-season starts, the Wild showed they didn’t have confidence that he could lead them on a long playoff run. Fair or unfair, good decision or not, Talbot was pushed aside for the future Hall of Famer.

Asked what he was told about the decision, Talbot said, “That doesn’t really matter. To me, that’s between the coaching staff and myself and Flower. Obviously, was I disappointed? Yeah. Pissed off? Yeah. But they expected that. They want you to be pissed off. I mean, who doesn’t want to play in the Stanley Cup playoffs? But I respected the decision, of course.”

Evason said all series that Talbot was handling the decision like the true professional he is. But clearly, there’s a relationship that will have to be mended, because despite Talbot having a year left at $3.67 million on his contract, Kelly alluded to the possibility of a trade and a new hometown next season. “Ride or Dies!” she wrote in a Tweet that has since been deleted. “So proud of @ctalbot33 ! Home is wherever YOU are! Excited for time with you and wherever the next adventure takes us!”

Talbot himself didn’t sound like he was considering asking for a trade yet when asked how hard it will be to put the organization’s postseason decision behind him.

“Ask me in a couple more days after I process this one,” Talbot said. “This is a special group, and I do have one year left (on my contract), and I’m just excited to be a part of this team and this group, that locker room. As much as that hurt, this is still a group that I believe in — a group that I’d like to be a part of. It’s a special team.”

One of the biggest missteps by coach Dean Evason entering the series was something he repeated a half dozen times, both before and after Fleury got the nod as the Game 1 starter. After weeks of saying the Wild would have a “tough decision” on their hands when deciding the Game 1 starter, he suddenly changed his tune and kept calling it an “easy decision.”

It was a bizarre choice of words, and you had to wonder how Talbot would interpret them.

What Evason might have meant is there was no wrong decision, because that’s what general manager Bill Guerin kept saying publicly, but using the words “easy decision” must have stung Talbot, who hadn’t lost a game in regulation since March 1.

It sure stung his wife.

When I tweeted Thursday night a quote by Talbot saying he respected the decision, Kelly replied sarcastically (in a tweet that has since been deleted): “But to Evason it was an EASY decision!”

It could also be that the Wild had already decided that they plan to test the trade waters with him this summer. After all, they had to know that turning to Fleury in the playoffs would have repercussions with Talbot since he’s the goalie with a year left on his deal and Fleury is an unrestricted free agent.

Fleury went 9-2 for the Wild in the regular season and was 2-3 in the playoffs. Guerin has a long relationship with him both as a teammate and Penguins executive. Maybe Guerin plans to re-sign Fleury. With the Wild’s cap situation next season, that would likely necessitate a Talbot trade anyway.

Talbot did go 13-0-3 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .917 save percentage in his final 17 appearances and 8-0-3 with a 2.25 GAA and .925 after Fleury’s arrival. But plain and simple, his actual stats and advanced stats before the trade were near the bottom of the league. Plus, the Wild had to be worried about his 0-1-2 mark against the Blues this season and his 5.93 GAA, .814 save percentage, and an 0-3-4 record in his last seven games against them.

But if the Wild were to play Talbot in this series after not turning to him early, the time to do so was probably Game 5 at home, when the series was knotted 2-2. They went with Fleury, whom they acquired for a second-round pick, and instead waited to play Talbot in an elimination road game after sitting him for exactly two weeks.

It didn’t seem like the wisest move going into the game, and he ended up giving up four goals on 26 shots.

Asked about the thought process, Evason said, “We’re going to second guess and we’re going to evaluate and we’re going to talk about what decisions we could’ve made and should’ve made. All of that. We make a call. We put three players in (Talbot, Dmitry Kulikov and Connor Dewar) and hope that that gives a boost and it’s the right decision. We’ll have to sit down and evaluate if it was or if it wasn’t. But it’s too soon right now to dig into that.”

Always accountable, Talbot fell on the knife for Nick Leddy’s goal that gave the Blues a lead they’d never lose. He said it was a save that needed to be made, even though he was rusty and even though Leddy was surrounded by five Wild defenders and even though Kulikov backed off, screened his goalie and had the puck kiss his shin pad for a change of direction.

“I’m sure it looks like it’s a terrible goal, but you have one-on-five — he should not have an opportunity to shoot the bloody puck,” Evason said. “Our goaltenders were good in this series. We didn’t do some things in front of them. One on five, four, five people? It can’t go in the net. It can’t get a shot on net.”

Teammates were impressed with how Talbot handled the short postseason.

“Just straight professional. Just an awesome guy,” right wing Marcus Foligno said. “Talbs speaks after games he hasn’t played in. He’s a voice in that room that we all rely on.”

Talbot reiterated the mutual respect for a special group, whatever is to come next.

“There’s never been a time throughout the season that I thought we gave up or quit in a game,” he said. “You can’t say enough about the guys in our room and how special they are and how special of a group this was. I think that’s what stings the most, but this team has been building something special this year and this was another step forward.”

(Photo: Jeff Le / USA Today)


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