The term “good soldier” gets thrown around a lot in sports. Not in a literal sense, obviously, but as a player who simply puts his head down, goes to work, and does his absolute best, no matter the circumstances surrounding him.
Scott Darling has been a pretty good soldier these three seasons with the Chicago Blackhawks.
He started off by toiling away in the minors, a guy who had been bouncing around various teams until the Blackhawks signed him to a one-year NHL contract in 2014. He put up good numbers, got called up, put up more good numbers, helped the team win a playoff round, helped them win a Stanley Cup: all at a $570,000 cap hit.
So they brought him back, because he was doing well, re-signing him to a two-year deal. Salary cap struggles helped keep him cheap; while $1.175 million over two years is a lot to us, compared to other NHL players it’s very little. But Darling went with it, continuing to play for his hometown team, and has continued to put up pretty good numbers as a backup as a result.
In Elliotte Friedman’s 30 Thoughts (#12), he wondered if that’s going to come to an end as Darling approaches free agency this season.
Watching Scott Darling beat Edmonton last weekend, I couldn’t help but wonder if he is this year’s Cam Talbot — ready to move on from being an understudy on a good team to being a No. 1 somewhere else.
“We’d love to keep him,” Bowman said. “And he’s told us he’d love to stay. He’s come a long way. We’ll see where we are after the season.” He’s certainly as ready as Talbot was for the Edmonton challenge.
Now, that doesn’t mean it’s going to happen - and obviously, we’re very far from anything being set - but it is worth thinking about.
The hometown factor obviously means something to Darling and really can’t be discounted; at the same time, he’s probably not going to usurp Corey Crawford any time soon, and if he wants to play more it’ll probably have to be for a different team.
Then there’s the fact of the matter that he may price himself out of what the Hawks can give him. Darling has played at a high level for what are essentially pennies compared to his peers. Can the Blackhawks afford to give him a substantial raise? How much would he be seeking for his new deal?
And if Darling does leave, who does Chicago replace him with?
The times are good right now, but the future is a bit murkier. It would be great to see someone from Chicago succeeding as a starter in the NHL - especially someone like Darling, who has more than earned his spot in professional hockey - but definitely bittersweet to see him go if that’s what ends up happening.