When the Carolina Hurricanes traded for goalie Scott Darling, general manger Ron Francis said he hoped to have him signed to a new contract sooner rather than later.
There were no guarantees. The Canes acquired Darling’s negotiating rights from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for a third-round pick in this year’s NHL Draft. Darling was due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 and had the option of waiting and seeing what he was worth on the open market when NHL free agency began.
But a week after the trade, Darling was signed. The Canes announced Friday that Darling had agreed to a four-year, $16.6 million contract.
“I was super excited when the trade happened and my goal the whole time was to sign with Carolina,” Darling said Saturday. “I’m really excited about the team that’s there and I’ve had heard nothing but great things, so once we worked out the contract part it was a no-brainer.”
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Darling, 28, was the backup goalie to Corey Crawford in Chicago, saying he learned a lot about the mental side of playing the position from Crawford. But Darling put up excellent numbers of his own — a 39-17-9 record, 2.37 goals-against average, .923 save percentage — in 75 games over three seasons with the Blackhawks, and said he was ready for the responsibility of being a No. 1 goalie in the NHL for the first time.
“I’m going to do everything in my power to learn how to be the best starter I can be,” he said. “I’ve got a good network of goalie friends and I’ll be picking their brains and asking for help and doing everything I can to be successful in that role.”
Francis said he liked Darling’s size — he fills the net at 6-foot-6 and 232 pounds — and liked that Darling is “competitive as hell.” Darling filled in well when Crawford had an appendectomy and was sick, Francis said, and played well against the Nashville Predators in a 2015 playoff series during the Blackhawks’ run to the Stanley Cup.
Francis said Darling took an “interesting path” to the NHL. He was in the Southern Professional Hockey League, then ECHL and AHL before making his NHL debut in the 2014-15 season with Chicago.
“I did enjoy the ride,” Darling said. “It’s been great but it’s definitely different. I think for somebody like me it makes me really appreciate where I’m at today.”
Darling has a few former Blackhawks teammates on the Canes — Joakim Nordstrom, Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell all were traded from Chicago to the Canes. Goalie Michael Leighton of the Charlotte Checkers also was Darling’s teammate when the two were with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.
“They said everything is first class, that they loved living in Carolina,” he said. “That kind of put my mind at ease. It reaffirmed what I assumed.”
One unknown for Darling is who the Canes’ goaltending coach will be. Former coach Dave Marcoux did not have his contract renewed and Francis said he still is in the process of hiring a new coach.
Francis now has three goaltenders on the roster. With Darling signed, he must decide whether Cam Ward or Eddie Lack – or either of the two –will be the Canes’ second goalie next season.
It is believed the Canes will expose Lack in the NHL expansion draft for the Vegas Golden Knights. If Lack is not taken in the draft, Francis could look to make a trade.
“It’s our job to explore each and every possibility,” Francis said.
Francis noted Canes coach Bill Peters, at the end-of-season press conference, said he wanted Francis to use some of the Canes’ 11 draft picks this year to make moves and bring in some NHL players.
“Bill did not want to use all 11 picks this year, so mission accomplished,” Francis said. “We only have 10 left. We’re open for business.”