Scott Darling has turned in a string of excellent performances for the Chicago Blackhawks lately, but that might come back to haunt them this summer when Darling becomes an unrestricted free-agent.
The 27-year-old Scott Darling has been living out his childhood dreams over parts of the last three seasons, playing goalie for his hometown team the Chicago Blackhawks. Darling, who hails from Lemont, IL has spent parts of the last three seasons as the Blackhawks back-up goalie, the understudy of one of the more underrated goalies in the NHL.
Darling has only played in 55 games during the course of his three seasons with the Blackhawks, but has come up big when he has been called upon to step into the starting role, including in the playoffs in the Spring of 2015 during his rookie year. Darling started four games during the 2014-2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs, winning three of the four games while allowing only 2.28 goals allowed against.
As it stands, Darling is only making $600,000 dollars but is due for a significant pay raise this Summer when he hits the open market. The Blackhawks likely will not be able to afford Darling at his new going rate.
Make no mistake, Scott Darling will get a nice pay day somewhere else if the Blackhawks chose not to ante-up. Darling has strung together four starts since Corey Crawford went down with an appendix removal procedure, posting a 3-0-1 record over that span. During that same span Darling has recorded a shutout and stopped 112 of 115 shots on goal, including 33 saves on Tuesday night versus the Eastern Conference leading New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
A testament to the quality of this week’s performance, Darling has taken on the Rangers twice in the last week, winning last night and dropping a tough one in overtime last Friday night. In those two games Darling has a combined 125 minutes of ice time, while stopping 69 of 71 shots on goal, against a team that is ranked second in scoring with 3.42 goals per game.
But it’s not just this last week that leads me to beleive that Darling will be a starting goaltender with another team after this season, he’s darn good in general. The former sixth round pick in the NHL Draft ranks seventh in the NHL in save percentage among goalie’s who have started ten or more games. His .933 save percentage ranks equally on the same scale, and his goals saved above average mark is sitting at 6.82.
In three seasons in the NHL, Darling has a career record of 27-14-6 in the regular season with the Blackhawks, allowing only 2.31 goals per game. Darling has a career save percentage of .923 with 2.31 goals allowed thus far.
The Blackhawks have battled staying under the salary nearly every summer since Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews got their long-term contracts, and as a result some beloved players and key cogs have departed through the trade market or via free-agency, most recently the Blackhawks were forced to trade Andrew Shaw, a fan-favorite around the windy city.
With current starting goaltender Corey Crawford accounting for $6 million in cap space in each of the next three seasons after this year, the Blackhawks are limited to somewhere in the $400,000 dollars to $850,000 dollars per season.
There will be a considerable market for the goalie this summer when he becomes a free agent, including the Carolina Hurricanes, Calgary Flames, San Jose Sharks and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
So I have to ask, at what point to the Blackhawks say to themselves; “What say we move Corey Crawford who is on the wrong side of thirty, with a hefty salary cap hit attached to him through his age 34 season?”. In all seriousness, Darling is only 27-years-old and would cost a third of what Crawford is costing the Blackhawks right now, Darling is only beginning to enter his prime years of his career, while Crawford will be 34-years-old by the end of his current deal.
I think Corey Crawford is excellent, in fact I think he is one of the most underrated players in sports, he’s a two-time Stanley Cup Champion goaltender after all. The issue that I’m having here when trying to come to terms with the idea of Scott Darling walking away from the Blackhawks for a much deserved pay day, is that I beleive that the Blackhawks will end up regretting the choice to let the younger, cheaper, and effective player leave in favor of moving the expensive veteran goaltender before they can’t do so.
At this point Scott Darling is playing his way right into a pay day, and right out of Chicago, but hopefully he continues to dazzle in each chance that he gets here in the 2016-2017, and maybe force the Blackhawks into actually considering the scenario where they change directions from Crawford to Darling as the everyday goalie.