All but two teams have gone their separate ways for the summer, and many players won’t be returning to their original locker room when the 2011-12 season begins. With free agency season fast approaching, key members of various clubs are expected to pack their bags and head towards a new home.
But one team that should hold on to a hard-working two-way player is the Pittsburgh Penguins; the 2009 Stanley Cup champions should re-sign potential unrestricted free agent center Maxime Talbot.
On June 12th, 2009, Talbot became the hero of the Stanley Cup Finals when he scored both Pens goals in their 2-1 Game 7 victory over the Detroit Red Wings. After a scoreless first period, Talbot took advantage of a turnover by Detroit blueliner Brad Stuart and shot the puck past goaltender Chris Osgood at 1:13 of the second period. Almost nine minutes later, he pounced on a pass by teammate Chris Kunitz and shot it in the net’s top corner. The 27-year-old forward then established himself as a player who has a knack for playing well in big games.
Unfortunately, the 2009-10 season was plagued by injuries for the versatile player. During the summer, the Lemoyne, QC native required surgery on his left shoulder and missed 21 games at the start of the season. Then in January, he suffered a series of lower body injuries, tallying his season total games played at only 45.
A year later, all Talbot wanted was to get through the season in one piece, being one of just two Penguins to participate in all 82 games of the 2010-11 campaign, along with teammate Kris Letang.
Following a challenging second half of the regular season with the loss of both Captain Sidney Crosby and star-player Evgeni Malkin to injuries, the Penguins needed all of their players to step up and fill the void. Talbot saw his average ice time per game increase by nearly three minutes compared to the previous season. He became a crucial component of Pittsburgh’s penalty kill, which was ranked first in the NHL for the first time in franchise history.
During the first round of the playoffs, Talbot turned out to be, once again, the player with a flair for big games; he tied for the team lead with four points (1G, 3A) in seven contests against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Pens didn’t make it to the second round, but their post-season ending did not come from a lack of effort. Talbot played every game with the energy, heart and determination he is known for.
Although Penguins GM Ray Shero would like to keep many of his free agents, the salary cap may land them somewhere else. Talbot’s previous cap hit of $1.05 million is likely to go up with his many successful campaigns with the team. Throughout his six seasons with the Pens, he played more than 350 games and tallied 33 points during their numerous playoff appearances.
As Shero told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, there are many players he would like to keep “but he wanted (former defensemen Hal) Gill and (Rob) Scuderi back, too.” Scuderi, however, signed with the Los Angeles Kings, while Gill found himself in Montreal.
Talbot is an outstanding energy forward who plays with tremendous passion. He plays bigger than he is, at 5-foot-11, and regularly shows leadership ability. He can play all three forward positions and is an excellent penalty-killer. He may sometimes lack offensive consistency but has displayed he can be counted on during key games. He is also a team player off the ice: he traveled to Haiti after the devastating earthquake with teammate Mike Rupp, and came back to Pittsburgh to raise funds to help build an orphanage in the ravaged country. He shared with Rupp the Edward J. DeBartolo “Community Service” Award, which he received at the annual team awards ceremony. Talbot is a versatile and gritty player with a promising future ahead.
The Penguins should cash in on the auspicious player. Mad Max could be an important piece the Pens need to make it to the post-season for a sixth straight year. Talbot has mentioned on numerous occasions he wishes to stay in Pittsburgh, and it would most certainly be the right move for the Pens to keep him in the fold.