Will write up in more detail in next few days, but here are my first impressions of the Hurricanes acquiring goalie Scott Darling.
Like Ron Francis seems to like to do it, just when people were settling into their lazy chairs for after dinner cocktails on a Friday evening, he dropped an unpredictable trade bomb out of the blue. After the Kris Versteeg deal went down at a similar time, I picture Francis and Blackhawks’ general manager Stan Bowman having a standing Friday cocktail hour phone chat while sitting on their back decks every Friday. Most weeks they just talk about golf, fishing, professional sports or whatever. But every once in awhile they do a deal instead.
Just after 7:30pm on Friday, Twitter went aflitter with the announcement that the Carolina Hurricanes had acquired Scott Darling from the Chicago Blackhawks for the Ottawa Senators 2017 third round draft pick they had acquired in the Viktor Stalberg trade. Scott Darling is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, so technically the Hurricanes acquired the right to negotiate exclusively with him through the end of June with no guarantee that he will actually suit up for the Hurricanes in October.
Scott Darling profile
Darling is a goalie from the current trend of ‘bigger is better.’ At 6 foot 6 inches tall and 232 pounds, Darling is very much in the Ben Bishop range for size. As a 28-year old who only has only three years of NHL experience and 64 starts to his credit, he is the stereotypical late bloomer that is common for the goalie position. Despite his modest experience, the opinion seems to be nearly unanimous that he is ready to become a #1 goalie. For the 2016-17 season, Darling posted a solid 18-5-5 record with a 2.38 goals against average and .924 save percentage. His career numbers are similar at 2.37 for a goals against average and .923 for a save percentage in 75 games total.
My first impression of the Hurricanes Scott Darling trade
My first reaction is that I am thrilled that Francis is making an upgrade in net, and that he is getting it out of the way early. I also like Darling and his potential to be a #1 goalie for multiple years.
If I had to note reservations about Darling in terms of risk/potential downside it would be threefold. First, he has never really been a #1 (other than as an injury fill in or player who temporarily took the job), so he has yet to carry that burden and the pressure that comes with it especially during tough stretches. Second, he has barely more than what I would consider a single season’s workload (60-65 games) under his belt. It was spread over three different seasons which helps, but I think it is fair to say that he is on the light side in terms of proven experience relative to other options. Finally, I have long been hesitant to sign goalies who look good in good situations. The Blackhawks floundered in the playoffs this season, but they have been a top of the league team during the regular season during Darling’s time. We can debate how big it is exactly and how quickly it is shrinking, but there is a gap between what he played behind in Chicago and what he will play behind in Raleigh.
I would rate Darling high for potential ceiling and in the top third at least of options based his play during the 2016-17 season. Based on his relatively low experience level and production in a great situation, I would also rate him as above average in terms of risk. That risk level increases if his deal price and term are high.
The trade for Scott Darling
The trade is interesting on multiple levels.
The third-round pick is not outlandish. Mid-round picks often trade hands for negotiating rights, but the fact that the pick is fairly high as a third-rounder and not conditional upon Darling signing with the Hurricanes is interesting. Quite normal is a deal that sends a later-round pick that conditionally upgrades if the player signs. So for example, the Hurricanes maybe could have given up a fifth-round pick that upgraded to a third or even a second-round pick if Darling signed.
So what might this mean? As I said on Twitter, my hunch is that Francis has significant reason to believe that he can get Darling signed. It could be that Chicago shared some information about what he was asking for and Francis just felt comfortable with the numbers and willing to risk it. There is also the chance that Francis was given permission by the Blackhawks to talk to his agent to get a simple idea of whether Darling would sign with the Hurricanes and for roughly how much. Indications seem to be that this did not happen which would surprise me. If Francis has no specific reason other than his goal/plan to believe Darling will sign with Carolina, the deal is aggressive and with some risk.
Another interesting upshot is the timing. If Francis really wanted to keep one of Ward or Lack to go with Darling, it would make sense to wait to sign Darling after using the Hurricanes’ expansion draft protection on the other goalie that Francis wanted to keep. But if Darling is willing/ready to sign, I do not think Francis would tempt fate by waiting a whole month and to within a week of free agency to do so. If Darling signs, I believe it is correct that he would need to be protected as a player under contract for 2017-18. I am NOT privy to Francis’ thoughts on this situation, but IF Francis was willing to consider a complete restart in net, this would be a way to make Ward available to Las Vegas without rankling feathers in the process. As a veteran who is good in the locker room and someone would could yield trade value at the 2018 trade deadline, just maybe Las Vegas takes him. That would make Lack the backup and or give Francis the ability to open up the other slot with buyout.
What say you Hurricanes fans?
Are you as amped up as I am?
Do you think is a sure thing (or close) that Scott Darling signs?
What is your wild guess for contract?