Canes goalie Scott Darling taking personal leave of absence

In another twist to the Scott Darling saga, the Carolina Hurricanes goalie has been granted a personal leave of absence, general manager Don Waddell said Sunday.

Darling, who sought to be the Canes’ No. 1 goalie this season, has played much of the year with the Charlotte Checkers, Carolina’s American Hockey League affiliate. He did not accompany the Checkers on their road trip this past weekend to face the Hershey Bears after Charlotte called up goalie Callum Booth from the Reading Royals of the ECHL.

“Since he’s been down there he’s had some good games and some bad games,” Waddell said in an interview. “He had a tough game the other night and his agent called me and said he would like to take a personal leave of absence and would we allow that to get his mind back together. That night he got rocked for about five (goals) and before he had a shutout (in regulation) before we lost in overtime 1-0. So we gave him the leave of absence.”

Darling’s agent, Matt Keator, confirmed Sunday that the request for a leave of absence was made but provided no other information on Darling, saying, “It’s a personal thing.”

Waddell said there was no set time limit to the leave, that the time frame for a return was open-ended.

“I’ll touch base with him,” Waddell said. “I told him to take a week and touch base with me in a week or so and we’ll go from there.”

Asked if it was a performance-based decision made by Darling because of his play, Waddell said, “No, I think it’s him trying to get his mind around it. He’s obviously has had a tough year on the ice and he needs, from a mental standpoint, needs to regroup basically.”

The Canes obtained Darling in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks and quickly signed him in May 2017 to a four-year, $16.6 million contract. A backup goalie in Chicago, Darling appeared ready to supplant Cam Ward as the Canes’ No. goalie in 2017-18 but had a rocky first season.

Darling went through strenuous offseason conditioning, shedding 25 pounds. He was putting together a strong preseason in training camp when he was injured in the final preseason game, Sept. 30 against the Nashville Predators and placed on injured reserve on Oct. 3. He spent time with the Checkers on a conditioning stint later in October.

The Hurricanes claimed veteran goalie Curtis McElhinney off waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs before the season opener, and McElhinney and Petr Mrazek have handled nearly all of the workload in net. Darling was placed on waivers Nov. 29, then assigned to the Checkers after clearing.

Darling has a 2-4-1 record with a 3.14 goals-against average and .892 save percentage in seven games with the Hurricanes this season. He’s 5-6-2, with a 3.40 GAA and .882 save percentage in 14 games with the Checkers.

In January, needing a callup, the Canes brought up Checkers goalie Alex Nedeljkovic, who won his first NHL start against Vancouver.

Waddell said the Hurricanes would continue to support Darling “100 percent.”

“We all know he’s had ups and downs in his career, and we’ll be supportive,” Waddell said. “He’s still under contract for two more years and we’ve got to try and see if we can get this thing back together.”

By that, Waddell meant get things back on the right track and get Darling back to playing with the confidence he had in preseason.

In more than 30 years at The N&O, Chip Alexander has covered the N.C. State, UNC, Duke and East Carolina beats, and now is in his 11th season on the Carolina Hurricanes beat. Alexander, who has won numerous writing awards at the state and national level, covered the Hurricanes’ move to North Carolina in 1997 and was a part of The N&O’s coverage of the Canes’ 2006 Stanley Cup run.