Scott Darling is the Hurricanes new starting goalie.

I repeat, the Scott Darling is the Canes new starting goalie.

Thanks to two late Friday press releases on consecutive weeks, there is excitement in Caniac Nation. Now everyone has seven weeks to contemplate GM Ron Francis‘ next move(s) with his NHL goaltenders. I’ll save all that conjecture for later.

For now let’s focus on what the Canes should expect from their newly signed player, without diving into the numbers. Brett Finger over at Canes Country as that covered. A four-year contact, making him the highest paid goalie on the roster at $4.15M, also came along with the keys to the starters crease. Now let’s see what he has to offer.

The Scouting Report on Darling

Since February, around the 328 Water Cooler, we’ve discussed Darling as a logical target to improve things in the Canes crease. Darling is a big goalie (6’6″, 232lbs) who plays an aggressive depth in the crease, and is a great skater who has performed well in an apprentice role in Chicago. These are the ideal characteristics for a netminder in Bill Peters’ system.

With defensemen playing aggressively (skate the puck out of their own end, jump into the play in the offensive zone), the team will give up plenty of scoring chances as their opponents skate the puck in transition. Watch Darling handle this situation earlier this season with Chicago:

Now watch him in stop new teammate Jordan Staal on a shorthanded rush:

He starts with an aggressive depth (about a foot above his crease) as he sets his skates, squaring himself to the puck carrier. Darling takes away most, if not all of the net. This forces shots from the top of the circles that can either be controlled, like the above example from J.T. Brown, or shot goes wide and around the board for an easier zone exit.

When multiple offensive players cross the blue line, like Staal and Nordstrom from the other example, Darling shows off his skating ability. He skates backwards at a rate that matches the speed of the attacking players. If he skates back too fast, reaching a conservative or deep crease depth, a shooter will have a field day with all the open spots. If he skates back too slow he becomes susceptible to deking players or cross-ice passes.

Factor in his good post-to-post play when there is sustained pressure in the zone and we can expect the team goals against total to drop from 230 (18th in the league).

Realistic Expectations

I would like the terms ‘Franchise Goalie‘ and ‘Goalie of the Future‘ removed from the Caniac lexicon.

Don’t think of Darling as either, or white-knight franchise savior. He’s not going to catapult into Vezina Trophy consideration, possibly ever. He’s going to be a slightly above-average NHL goaltender if he stays healthy and isn’t overworked. That is more than good enough to make the playoffs.

He has a good goaltender that will hopefully follow in the path of Martin Jones (SJS) and Cam Talbot (EDM). Both players finished payed their dues working with an organization for several years at the AHL and NHL level.

There is one difference between those two success stories and Darling: Scott hasn’t played 50+ games in a professional season. 35 appearances in 2011-12 with the SPHL’s Mississippi RiverKings continues to be his career high. Last season he made 32 appearances.

Expecting Darling to start 60-plus games in 2017-18 is an unreasonable benchmark. Given his pure size, you have to be fearful he breaks down midway through the season, similar to Ben Bishop. Bishop made more than 60 starts in his three seasons as a starter in Tampa. Injuries began to pop-up during the Lightning’s 2015 Stanley Cup run. His regular season numbers looked great the next year, but you can argue he was never the same.

Sound familiar to any former Conn Smythe winning goalies you know?

With Darling signed, finding the a complementary goaltending coach must be at the top of Fort Knox Francis’ offseason priorities now. This individual will be vital in creating a healthy, competitive environment for both goalies on the roster. Anything gradually working Darling toward 50-55 starts would be best.

Which brings us to the second member of the goalie tandem.

Lack v. Ward: Did someone call for Backup?

The goaltending debate has been beaten to death. Then beaten into submission before combusting into flame.

Sadly it rises from the ashes like the Phoenix, time and time again. Fire-protection coverage has been declined on our insurance policies.

It’s in Caniac Nation’s best interest to move on from both Eddie Lack and Cam Ward. It’s in both men’s best interests as well. There are a number of open crease situations across the league, pending the results of the Vegas expansion draft selections.

Neither Lack nor Ward will garner much interest for the Golden Knights without added incentive. It’s not worth giving up assets to take either player. There are several are other team teams (Calgary, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Winnipeg) in need of 1/1A/NHL Backup goaltenders.

Lack’s future will be interesting. Many conversations with card-carrying member of the Goalie Union suggest teams/other goalie coaches would be willing to take a flier on him. With expectation he needs to play at least 41 games, play more than once every two weeks he could find a nice rhythm.

Working with a coaches building on his strengths, in a system suited to his conservative crease depth will make the world of difference for Eddie. Given the contrasting styles between his and Darlings styles doesn’t make a third season in the Sightless Eye likely. With $3M in actual salary in 2017-18, but only a $2.7M cap hit his contract could be moved.

Ward will have to accept an NHL backup role going forward, whether in Carolina or elsewhere. I think everyone would be surprised what type of numbers (hint, hint: League Average) he could produce in 30 or less games a year. Any trade involving Ward would require retained salary and minimal, conditional assets in return.

Don’t sleep on the possibility of a buyout for either party, allowing the team to move both players. It would save the Team at least $1M in salary payments, similar to the James Wisniewski buyout last year. Given the number of players on the market, cost for a UFA backup will be less than that.

Since the Canes will have to be creative to hit the salary floor again, pending Francis’ first Bold Move as GM, it’s plausible.

Don’t Forget

After revisiting the Lack/Ward debate it’s important to remember:

Scott Darling is a Carolina Hurricane

(Thanks, Meg)