The Chicago Blackhawks made their first major roster move of the offseason by trading goaltender Scott Darling to the Carolina Hurricanes on Friday. The team receives the Senators’ 2017 third-round pick in exchange for Darling, who will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
The Hurricanes get an exclusive negotiating window with the goaltender before he can hit the open market. The team will also need to protect him from the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft because he has more than two years of NHL/AHL experience.
For the Blackhawks, this is a smart move to recoup a draft pick for a player who was going to leave as a free agent anyway. The team already has $6 million per year tied up in starting goalie Corey Crawford (who also has a partial no-trade clause), so there wasn’t going to be cap space for Darling.
Now instead of letting him walk this summer for nothing, the team gets a pick for its trouble. The Hawks didn’t have a 2017 third-rounder after trading theirs to the Stars in the Johnny Oduya deal, so now they get the Senators’ pick, which the Hurricanes originally acquired earlier this year for Viktor Stalberg.
Darling, 28, made 75 appearances for the Blackhawks over the past three seasons. He posted a .923 save percentage and 2.37 goals against average as a very strong backup. That work is worthy of an opportunity to start, which he’ll likely get in Carolina ahead veterans Cam Ward and Eddie Lack.
The Hurricanes already have $6.05 million tied up in Ward and Lack for next season, but have ample cap space and clearly weren’t satisfied with either player. Ward had a .905 save percentage in 61 games, while Lack wasn’t any better at .902 in 20 games. It’s still possible Darling doesn’t sign a contract with them and hits free agency — meaning they gave up a pick for nothing — but given that cost, it’s hard to see them failing to agree to a deal.
There was some speculation given the Blackhawks’ cap situation that they could try to trade Crawford and re-sign Darling, saving some money in the process, but now that option is off the table. Maybe the team approached Darling’s camp just to see where his asking price came in, discovered it was high enough that trading Crawford wouldn’t be worth it, and decided to move the backup instead. But with Darling out, it’s hard to see the Hawks moving Crawford this summer, even if they need cap flexibility.
Darling was fantastic in his three years with the Hawks, so hopefully he’ll be able to take advantage of his chance at a bigger role. He should at least be an upgrade on Ward and Lack, and after the incredible road he took to get to the NHL in the first place, it’s awesome to see him keep progressing.