The Chicago Blackhawks and Carolina Hurricanes hooked up yesterday for a rare April trade, with pending UFA goaltender Scott Darling departing the Windy City in return for a third-round draft pick in the 2017 entry draft. The Hawks get the third-rounder originally acquired by Carolina at the trade deadline from Ottawa in exchange for veteran winger Viktor Stalberg. The Canes, meanwhile, bring in Darling, who played well as Corey Crawford’s understudy and was likely going to depart Chicago as a free agent to pursue a starting job elsewhere. Now it appears he’ll have that opportunity in Carolina, presuming he agrees to sign with the team rather than test the open market, of course.
On the surface this deal certainly wouldn’t qualify as a blockbuster, but all one has to do is look north to Edmonton to see what can happen when a quality backup goalie is given a chance to be a #1. Cam Talbot, previously Henrik Lundqvist’s #2 in New York, has developed into a quality starter for the Oilers and has so far guided his team to a surprising 2 – 0 lead over Anaheim in their Western Conference semifinal match. Talbot also led NHL netminders this season in several categories, including games played, wins and shots against. While there is no guarantee Darling will follow Talbot’s career trajectory, the latter’s success is evidence that deals like this can sometimes pay off.
Here’s a rundown of reactions from around the league:
- Mark Lazerus of the Chicago Sun Times likes the deal from both perspectives, arguing that the Hawks got solid value for a player they had no room to re-sign while the Hurricanes add a potential long term starter between the pipes. Lazerus does, however, opine that the move, albeit inevitable, leaves the club perilously thin in goal. Beyond Crawford, Chicago has no goaltender in the organization with NHL experience, though Jeff Glass is around to meet the team’s expansion draft requirement of exposing one goalie under contract for 2017-18. The scribe also adds that Chicago gave no thought to extending Darling while attempting to move Crawford. Lazerus suspects Darling could get close to $4MM on the open market but the potential cap savings evidently wasn’t compelling enough to cause Chicago to reconsider their goaltending situation.
- Adam Gretz of NBC Sports Pro Hockey Talk writes that Carolina’s acquisition of Darling is “worth the risk,” borrowing a quote from Hurricanes GM Ron Francis. As Gretz notes, Carolina has long received substandard play between the pipes and it was more of the same in 2016-17. Cam Ward and Eddie Lack combined for a S% of just 0.901, good for just 26th in the league. In fact, Carolina has fared no better than 25th in that category in any of the previous five seasons. For a team looking to break an eight year playoff drought, improved play in net would go a long way to improve their postseason chances in 2017-18. Gretz also points out that the Hurricanes boast an impressive amount of 2017 draft capital, with their own first-rounder, three seconds and two thirds even after acquiring Darling’s rights. As a result, the team can afford to take this gamble given their enviable entry draft wealth.
- Luke DeCock of The News & Observer is satisfied to at least see Carolina attempt to make changes in goal, even if the team fails to extend Darling, after what he describes as “two unsatisfying years of the Cam Ward/Eddie Lack tandem.” According to DeCock, a third-round pick may be a substantial price to pay for just two months of exclusive negotiating rights but considering Carolina still has six choices in the first three rounds and 10 overall in 2017, it’s a reasonable cost assuming the Hurricanes can lock the 28-year-old goalie to a long term deal. The scribe feels Darling is just entering his prime and has the potential to solve the team’s longstanding issues between the pipes. DeCock believes the deal also means Carolina already has an agreement in place or feels confident in their ability to consummate one with the Vegas Golden Knights that would result in one of Ward or Lack being selected in the expansion draft. The duo accounts for a combined $6MM cap charge and with Darling expected to command around $4MM annually, a budget team like Carolina simply cannot afford to keep all three in the organization. Ultimately, DeCock feels entering the 2017-18 campaign with the Ward/Lack duo would have been “utter folly,” and considers any change “an improvement.”