Regardless of whether the Carolina Hurricanes can sign Scott Darling, regardless of whether he’s capable of being their goalie of the future or not, this much was true and welcome on a Friday evening in April while the playoffs proceeded apace elsewhere:
Finally, some movement in net.
After two unsatisfying years of the Cam Ward/Eddie Lack tandem, general manager Ron Francis is moving in a different direction. Or at least trying to move in a different direction, given that they gave up a third-round pick for the negotiating rights to Darling, who will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
With seven draft picks in the first three rounds before the trade, a third-rounder was both a steep price to pay for a guy they could potentially have had for free in two months but a reasonable expense dealing from strength to address a glaring weakness. As long as they can reach a long-term deal with Darling, the worst of their third-round picks – 83rd overall, obtained from Ottawa for Viktor Stalberg at the trade deadline – is a small price to pay to potentially resolve a position that’s been an issue for years.
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At 28, Darling should be entering the prime of his career, and with Corey Crawford ensconced in the Chicago net, he was going to get a new opportunity somewhere. Why not an improving Carolina team, which if it doesn’t end this eight-year playoff drought next season probably never will? His numbers as a backup with the Blackhawks were good, and he certainly looked capable in his two appearances against the Hurricanes this year – four goals allowed on 68 shots – but there’s always a risk involved with promoting a capable backup into a starting role. Some guys can handle it. Some can’t.
For the Hurricanes, that risk is minimal: Entering a third season with the Ward/Lack tandem would have been utter folly. Any change is an improvement, and the gargantuan 6-6 Darling had dramatically better stats this season as a 32-game backup than either of the goalies he would replace here, albeit playing behind the Chicago defense.
This move also suggests there’s a plan in place to move the remaining year left on the contracts of one of the remaining goalies, most likely a side deal with the expansion Vegas Golden Knights to take Lack off the Hurricanes’ hands and leave the veteran Ward as a credible backup option behind Darling, a role he seems mentally equipped to fill at this point in his career.
There will be a lot of work ahead to sign Darling, who would have been one of the most sought-after free agents on the market, and still will be if he makes it to July 1. But the Hurricanes have cap space and a solid defensive core to build around, and there won’t be a ton of teams looking for a No. 1 goalie this summer. This move makes as much sense for Darling as it does the Hurricanes.
Maybe they’ll get him signed. Maybe he’s the long-term answer in goal. And maybe they won’t and maybe he’s not. But after two years of stagnation in net, any movement is welcome movement for the Hurricanes. It’s a worthwhile gamble at the least. And if Darling does turn out to be the answer in goal, a third-round pick in a year the Hurricanes have a surplus of them won’t be missed in the slightest.
Finally, though, the Hurricanes are making a change in net, or trying to make a change. Either way, it’s time.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, email@example.com, @LukeDeCock