Scott Darling Investment Will Pay Off for Carolina Hurricanes

Stop me if you’ve seen this before in recent NHL history. A goaltender that wasn’t the bonafide number one or was the pure back-up gets his rights traded and signs an extension, and all of a sudden the team is in the playoffs after a long drought with a big part having to do with his strong play between the pipes.

Scott Darling Investment Will Pay Off for Carolina Hurricanes

One from Alberta may answer, while coughing, Cam Talbot. Another from Ontario, Frederik Andersen.

The former solidified a position that was lacking for the better part of the Oilers’ 10-year playoff drought, ranking in the bottom 15 in goals against over the span (2.80) before Talbot’s 42-win campaign (.919 save percentage, 2.39 goals against) that broke Grant Fuhr‘s record for wins in a single season in franchise history. He was acquired in the summer of 2015 and signed a three-year, $12.5 million extension in January of last season.  He had 57 games of experience before the trade, including two playoff contests and a career high of 34 starts.

The latter had the best save percentage (.918) and second-best goals against average (2.67) among Toronto netminders in a season where they started at least 50 games since Ed Belfour posted the same percentage and a minuscule 2.13 average in 2003-04. Toronto acquired him at the 2016 Draft and signed an extension immediately after for five years at $25 million. They made the playoffs in a full season for the first time since Belfour lead them there 13 years ago. He had 125 games of experience and 24 playoff contests before the trade with a 53-start season on his resume.

The Trade

This week, the first half of the equation occurred with Chicago back-up Scott Darling getting his rights traded to the Carolina Hurricanes for a 2017 third round pick. He signed a four-year extension last night that will pay him $4.15 million per season, which may look on the surface like quite a high risk since he’s only played 75 contests over three seasons with a career high set this year in games started at 27, However, a goalie who was playing ECHL hockey at 26 indeed will be the answer in goal to Carolina’s eight-year playoff drought.

Taste of Winning Culture with Elite Battery Mate

Similar to Andersen but with quite a lesser workload, Darling’s first season came in the 2014-15 campaign when the Chicago Blackhawks captured their third Stanley Cup in six seasons, the second for battery mate Corey Crawford whom he’s had the opportunity to learn from for the past three campaigns. The Blackhawks’ No. 1 saw the skill from the time he arrived that training camp.

“I couldn’t believe a big guy like that (6-foot-6, 232 pounds), how quick he moves, how well he sees the puck. He’s now waiting for that chance to get more ice time and become a No. 1 goalie. The skill is definitely there. It’s just a matter of waiting,” remarked Crawford, a day before the Winter Classic this season.

He was a nice story in 2014-15 and was rewarded with a two-year extension. He had 13 impressive starts posting a .936 save percentage and 1.94 goals against average. Darling also won four games in the 2015 Playoffs. He allowed just 11 goals in five playoff games. His workload has since increased gradually to 24 and now 27 starts this season. He has combined for a .920 save percentage along with a 2.48 goals against average in his last 61 games.

Though his three-year sample size is small, it was good enough for 12th among all netminders (min. 3000 minutes) in goals saved above average (28.59). In terms of save percentage on scoring chances from high-danger areas, he ranked second only to Carey Price with an .847 mark. Again, sample size, but still, quite encouraging.

The Bill Peters System

Built on possession, Darling will be in good hands with head coach Bill Peters. His teams have allowed 27.7 shots per game since he took over as coach in 2015, ranking second in the entire league during that span. However, the ‘Canes have not had the right man in net, giving up 2.72 goals per game (18th) despite their elite shot suppression. This is where Darling will come in.

The system will ease the 28-year old into the life of being a starter trying to lift a lifeless franchise, with a summer still to go for general manager Ron Francis to swing a deal and help out his offensive corps. They have been less than impressive in that department, scoring 2.40 goals per game in the past three seasons (26th), and Darling would ideally like to get some support, something that he has gotten used to in Chicago. He received four-plus goals of support 15 times this season.

Beyond Time to Replace Cam Ward

Remember when Cam Ward lit the NHL on fire in the 2006 Playoffs? It was the last time the Hurricanes were respectable in game attend—well, they were 21st, a nine-spot improvement from the dead last ranking this past season. Ward as a rookie lead his team to the Stanley Cup posting a .920 save percentage and 2.14 goals against average. Unfortunately, the only regular season comparison since then would have to be the 2010-11 campaign (.923 save percentage (.927 even strength), 2.56 goals against).

In fact, the best four-year stretch of Ward’s career was quite good, but not that elite level shown in the magical run. Over 253 (!!!) starts from 2008-2012, he posted a .918 save percentage and 2.60 goals against. He’s lost a step since racking up a .906/2.68 slash line in 206 starts since. His -7.35 goals saved above average ranked last among starters with at least 2500 minutes played this season. It’s bad enough the the ‘Canes have problems offensively when their goaltending is an equal weakpoint. A breath of fresh air in net will do the team well.

Conclusion

The Hurricanes are pouring money into their goaltending going into the ’18-19 season, with Ward, Eddie Lack and Darling combining for a $10.2 million cap hit the year after next. Lack and Ward will be left unprotected in this year’s expansion draft. If the Vegas Golden Knights pick up either, it will be a boon to their cap space; allowing the Hurricanes to make a big move. Darling undoubtedly will be “the guy” going forward, however, no matter what happens. Echoing the situations of the two other goaltenders mentioned, the fit is there for Darling to grow his game. He can take the next step as a starter taking his winning pedigree into a defensive system; making the small sample size stand up as it becomes bigger and bigger.

All advanced statistics courtesy of Corsica.Hockey.

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