Is it the right time to trade Scott Darling?

He’s not the Hawks’ goalie of the future and the days to cash in his value are running out, but can you lose a backup goalie this good?

It’s become increasingly clear that Scott Darling won’t be with the Blackhawks after this year barring some type of miracle for Chicago’s backup netminder.

The Hawks’ hometown hero will command a price his team can’t meet as a free agent in the offseason, and deserves the type No. 1 goalie duties the coaches can’t give him with Corey Crawford around. Such are the problems of having two goalies with sub-2.60 goals against averages.

Up until now, the tandem has been one the biggest spoils for the Blackhawks. But Darling is finishing the final year of a two-year steal of a contract and the market says he deserves a massive pay raise.

The only thing Chicago can do now is have some sort of say in how the two sides separate, and that begs the question of a trade right now. But the Blackhawks would need a worthwhile return to shake up their goalie situation so late in the season, and it’s not readily apparent one exists.

Why a trade makes sense

Let’s start with the obvious: Why give away for free tomorrow what you can sell for top dollar today?

We’ve already seen one top goalie get moved before Wednesday’s trade deadline — with the Lightning sending Ben Bishop to the Kings for goalie Peter Budaj, defenseman prospect Eric Cernak, a seventh-round pick and a conditional pick, both in the 2017 draft. That’s a decent haul for a team trying to rebuild quickly, which is more or less what the Hawks have to do every three-to-four years.

There may not be contenders in desperate need of a top-notch goalie to keep their Stanley Cup dreams alive, but there are some suitors out there right now. The Senators lost backup Andrew Hammond for the rest of season on Monday, and while Mike Condon and Craig Anderson have been solid, there’s room for someone to outright claim the net. Or the Hawks could move Darling to a team looking to rebuild and add some more depth at the deadline. With prospects and top-50 picks flying around on the market, that’s surely the type of return the Hawks would love to have.

Chicago has mostly been an asset-orientated team in the Toews-Kane era. Taking a chance on a cheap goalie like Darling and flipping it for organizational depth when the time comes would just be a continuation of that process.

Why a trade doesn’t make sense

The reason why the Hawks put an emphasis on organizational depth is to keep the Cup window open as wide as possible in the short-term without sacrificing the long-term. That’s why they went for a bridge deal with Panarin, and why they started the season with six rookies on the roster. You can have things both ways.

Darling isn’t just a safety net on a championship-caliber team — he’s a bonafide star on  his own. The value of having the goalie tandem of Darling and Corey Crawford was already demonstrated in 2015, when the Hawks’ essentially rode their backup past the Nashville Predators in the first round before winning the Cup that year.

In moving Darling, the Hawks would then likely use a goalie from Rockford, none of whom have NHL experience, to backup Crawford in the playoffs. And it’s not that Crawford isn’t capable of carrying the team by himself, but you need to be prepared for the unexpected in the postseason.

The Hawks are also playing their best hockey of the year right now. Jonathan Toews mentioned lately that he loves this group and it’s hard to find someone worth replacing on the ice at the moment. There are two ways a trade with Darling could go: 1) essentially trading rental player for rental player, and there aren’t many the Hawks could fit on the roster right now, or 2) dealing for prospects and picks down the line that don’t help you for a few years anyways.

Probability a trade gets done

Moving Darling feels very unlikely, but not to the point that you couldn’t see Bowman pulling the trigger on a deal here. The salary cap crunch is as real as it’s ever been and if the Hawks GM can pry away a top prospect from a team there’s no question he should do it. But that also makes his team way more vulnerable for a 2017 postseason run that’s looking more and more like it could end with a trip to the Stanley Cup Final. There aren’t many Eastern Conference contenders who would sell out for a goalie right now and trading Darling to a Western foe doesn’t make any sense, either.

If the right deal comes along the Hawks obviously have to listen. But there’s no saying that Bowman couldn’t essentially deal the rights to Darling for a (lower) pick after the season anyway.

Even if trading Darling is the right thing to do now, the potential long-term gains don’t match his short-term value.