Scott Darling: Hometown Guy A Long-Term Solution?
When you look at the career of Darling, it is one of the more impressive rises from rock-bottom in recent memory. At one point in his life, Darling was a top prospect at the University of Maine. At another point in his life, Darling was playing for the Louisiana Ice Gators in the Southern Professional Hockey League, and not doing well (6-22-0, 3.83 GAA, .892 save percentage). But, at one of the more recent points in Darling’s life, he is seen lifting the Stanley Cup over his head with his hometown team.
Darling, a native of Lemont, Ill., is in one of the more challenging spots for the Blackhawks being a solid backup to Crawford with little room to move forward in his career while playing in Chicago. As long as Crawford is in Chicago, he’ll be the starter and Darling will be the backup, but there are a few teams in the NHL that could use a goaltender like Darling: big, agile and a great humanitarian.
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The problem comes with Darling’s worth in the league and his worth to the Blackhawks. To the Blackhawks, Darling is an affordable and reliable backup, making just $587,500 next season in the final year of his contract. Darling has shown at times that he can be trusted with longer-term starting duties after going 21-12-4 with a 2.36 GAA and a .922 save percentage in his two seasons with the Blackhawks, as well as making four starts and winning a relief effort in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs’ opening round against the Predators on the way to the Stanley Cup last season.
To the rest of the league, Darling could be one of the cheapest starting goalies in the NHL. Darling in any sort of extension or new contract negotiations more than likely won’t reach above the $1 million range. When you look at players like Cam Ward, Jonathan Bernier and the Dallas tandem of Niemi and Kari Lehtonen, all making north of $4 million per yer and not giving their teams the best advantage on the ice to win, those teams could look at the potential of Darling and see a very cap-friendly solution to issues between the pipes.
If Chicago is thinking short-term with Darling, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in a trade at some point next season. But that would be the wrong idea. Darling should, short-term, be the Blackhawks’ backup or Crawford’s replacement once his time is Chicago is done. If Crawford has four or five good years left in him, that would make Darling 31 or 32 when he would get a shot at the full-time starter spot. On a team looking to always save money and flirt with the salary cap, the Blackhawks have a gem of a player in Darling.
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