In what is becoming pure Ron Francis’ form, today, on Friday around or after dinner time when most people are heading into the weekend, the Carolina Hurricanes made a big announcement. The team signed recently-acquired Scott Darling to a 4-year contract at $4.15 million per season.
With the move, the Hurricanes have moved aggressively and early to add one of the best goalies available this summer. And in the process, the move addresses the Hurricanes biggest offseason need on May 5, a full 5 months before the start of the 2017-18 season. As I said on Twitter, there is still work for Francis to do this summer, but acquiring and signing Scott Darling fills the biggest need and very clearly shifts Ron Francis from opportunistically building for some undefined time in the future to playing to win now.
And that my Hurricanes friends is an incredibly good thing!
Scott Darling catch up
I covered most of the angles on Scott Darling when he was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks for a third-round pick almost exactly one week ago.
My first impressions article profiled Scott Darling and discussed a couple interesting angles on the trade itself.
I followed up with a part two on the Scott Darling trade that considered flight risk, looked at the broader Hurricanes goalie situation that now includes three goalies and came pretty darn close guessing his contract at either three or four years at $4 million per season.
A few new Scott Darling thoughts
As noted above, I had the contract pegged at either three or four years at $4 million per season, so today’s announcement lined up pretty well. I had a slight preference for three years instead of four simply to reduce risk. This is not commentary on Scott Darling specifically but rather my opinion that there just is no sure thing in any goalie, so shorter contracts are preferred. That said, this is a fair deal, not an unreasonable term and probably what Francis had to do to get a deal one. It is a positive.
Sorting out the goalie position – Darling, Ward, Lack, oh my!
As I said previously, I think the path forward goes like this…Scott Darling obviously gets protected in the expansion draft which therefore exposes Cam Ward and Eddie Lack. If Las Vegas does a few deals NOT to take other goalies from other teams (i.e. Grubauer, Korpisalo, etc.), there is a slight chance that Ward could fit as a solid veteran and early leader as Las Vegas starts to build its culture. But more likely neither Ward or Lack are claimed. I think Francis would then try to include Lack in a trade to Las Vegas (would need to pay in futures to do that) or as part of a broader deal elsewhere. If that does not happen, I think Lack gets bought out before the start of free agency on July 1.
So when I net it out, I think the most likely scenario is that the Hurricanes start the 2017-18 season with Scott Darling and Cam Ward as the team’s goalie tandem.
With the biggest offseason need already addressed, Francis can turn to the other big one which is adding a top 6, scoring forward. The second one is even more challenging. Whereas there actually were a good number of potential goalie options available, adding a top end forward will require some combination of black magic, a pry bar and maybe downright thievery.
Francis spent a little bit more than the original budget I had for the goalie slot, but in the process, he addressed the top priority and spent only a third-round pick to do so. That leaves Francis with plenty of assets to begin working on other needs.
It is important not to expect Francis to suddenly address the forward need in May (though it would be welcomed). As I said above, the forward need could be much tougher to fill.
A clear transition to playing for the 2018 playoffs
It is not as if Francis was not trying during his first two summers as general manager. But his cautious and opportunistic approach to trades and free agency were much more the work of a general manager shopping for value and building for the future. The aggressive move to go get one of the (if not the) best option to address the team’s biggest need is a stark contrast to previous summers. Francis put a stake in the sand and made it clear that he was playing for 2017-18.
There are obviously no guarantees, but this Carolina Hurricanes fan now has a coffee can with a piece of masking tape on it labeled simply “2018 playoff money.”