The Carolina Hurricanes have traded for a goalie, acquiring Scott Darling from the Chicago Blackhawks.
Now, the Canes have to sign him to keep him.
The Canes on Friday obtained Darling in exchange for Ottawa’s third-round pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Carolina retains exclusive negotiating rights with Darling until July 1 -- if unsigned, he then becomes an unrestricted free agent.
The Canes had 11 picks stockpiled for 2017 draft, getting the Ottawa draft choice in the Feb. 28 trade that sent forward Viktor Stalberg to the Senators. Carolina general manager Ron Francis used one of those assets Friday for the chance to sign a player who helped the Blackhawks win a Stanley Cup in 2015 and potentially could be the Canes’ No. 1 goalie.
“This is a bit of a gamble but one we believed was worth taking,” Francis said in an interview Friday. “This is why we accumulated these picks and we still have 10 left. It was worth the risk.”
Francis spoke with Darling, 28, for the first time later Friday night, saying the goalie was “genuinely excited about the opportunity and the fact we stepped up and showed interest in trading for him.”
Francis said he would begin preliminary talks with Matt Keator, Darling’s agent, early next week.
“Obviously we’d like to get something done sooner rather than later,” Francis said.
The Canes missed the playoffs for an eighth straight season and one factor was the inconsistent goaltending of Cam Ward and Eddie Lack. Francis, in his end-of-season press conference this month, said the goaltending situation was “an area we need to look closely at and fix.”
Francis again turned to the Blackhawks, who have become a frequent trading partner. In the past two years, the Canes have acquired forwards Kris Versteeg and Joakim Nordstrom, then forwards Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell from Chicago as Francis and Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman stayed busy.
Darling has served as Corey Crawford’s backup with the Blackhawks but again put up impressive numbers this season — an 18-5-5 record, with a 2.38 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage in 32 games played.
The 6-foot-6, 232-pound goalie recorded the decision in each of his career-high 27 starts (18-5-4). His only non-start decision came in an overtime loss March 21 against Vancouver when he entered a 4-1 game early in the third period.
Darling’s .924 save percentage was tied for fourth among NHL goaltenders starting more than 25 games.
“Obviously he’s a big guy and he’s extremely competitive, which you can tell if you watch him play,” Francis said. “He was more than serviceable in his role in Chicago. He has been hoping to get the opportunity to be a No. 1 goalie and his numbers indicate he’s capable of being a No. 1 goalie.”
Ward appeared in 61 games this season and Lack 20 after missing a big chunk of the season recovering from two concussions. Ward had a 2.69 goals-against average and Lack a 2.64 GAA, and their save percentages — Ward finishing at .905 and Lack at .902 — were not what Francis or Canes coach Bill Peters wanted.
The Hurricanes must expose a goalie in the NHL expansion draft in June and it’s believed Lack will be the one made available to be chosen by the Vegas Golden Knights.
Asked Friday what his goaltending plans would be if Darling is signed, Francis said, “Good question.” While he has an answer, Francis prefers to remain mum until Darling is signed — or not signed.
Darling had a $587,500 salary cap hit the past two years with the Blackhawks, and had a salary of $600,0000 in 2016-17.
Darling made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks on Oct. 26, 2015. In 75 career NHL games, all with Chicago, he has a 39-17-9 record, 2.37 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage.
In 2015, Darling went 3-1 in five opening-round playoff appearances against Nashville, helping the Blackhawks win the series en route to a third Stanley Cup championship in six years.
Francis has made other changes since the season ended, electing not to renew the contracts of Pete Friesen, the Canes’ longtime trainer and strength and conditioning coach, and goalie coach Dave Marcoux.
Francis praised Friesen’s 21 years of service, saying, “Pete’s a good man and capable trainer and did a lot of great things for this organization. But sometimes you need a fresh voice. Sometimes, you need to go in a different direction.”