Darling was recalled Sunday evening, had a two-year contract extension announced shortly later and was named Monday the team’s starter against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday.
Darling will be paid $575,000 next season and $600,000 in the 2016-17 season, a source told ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun. The source believed Darling would be on a two-way deal next season and on a one-way deal the following season.
Darling, who grew up a Blackhawks fan in Lemont, Ill., was overwhelmed by all of it.
“I’m just super excited to be here,” said Darling after practice on Monday. “It’s a huge honor to get a contract on a team like the Chicago Blackhawks. I couldn’t be happier.”
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said it was all deserved based on Darling’s play throughout the season.
“You know Scott, he’s done a good thing all year long,” Quenneville said. “When we saw him earlier on in the year, we felt he’s going to get an opportunity at some point this year. You’re looking at timing and when’s a good spot. We felt that the opportunity for him to come in here [Tuesday] to get a chance to play [Tuesday] is part of it.”
The Blackhawks took a flyer on Darling with a one-year contract in July. He had shown some potential in the AHL last season, but he was no sure bet as a journeyman minor leaguer. The Blackhawks had also signed Michael Leighton and still had Kent Simpson in the system as other potential NHL goaltenders if anything happened to Corey Crawford and Antti Raanta this season.
Darling impressed Quenneville and Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman in training camp and made Simpson expendable in a trade. Darling continued to shine with the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL, and he was chosen over Leighton when Crawford was injured in October.
Darling proved to be capable during two previous stints in the NHL, going 5-2-0 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .937 save percentage. He also remained consistent in Rockford and has gone 14-8-2 with a 2.20 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.
All of those reasons led the Blackhawks signing him to an extension and giving him his current chance in the NHL again.
“I think organizationally I think he made a nice impact right off the bat,” Quenneville said. “I think he came in, worked his way right through training camp and made an impact when he played. And when he was called up, he looked like he fit in. It looks like he’s really grown in his game. His size is noticeable as well. He’s played well down there. It’s more of a chance for him to keep going.”
Darling’s agent Matt Keator first witnessed Darling’s potential when he stopped 70-plus shots in a game as a teenager. Keator has since seen his client go through many ups and downs on and off the ice. For Keator, it’s been rewarding to watch Darling finally put it all together.
“I’ve been an advisor for him in college and an agent for him ever since,” Keator said. “I’ve been through thick and thin with this kid. At heart, he always had a great heart. He was just a sweetheart of a kid that had some bad habits.
“I always stick with my players no matter what, and I stuck with Scott all along. And he stuck with me, and he listened. He finally started listening. He finally started listening to changing those habits. When he changed the habits, all of a sudden his career just took off because he was finally maximizing all the talent he finally had and giving himself an opportunity for success finally.”
Keator wouldn’t go into details about the contract, but he described it as a cap-friendly contract.
“It’s good for both sides,” Keator said. “It gives him a platform for the next two year to perform and have a chance and prove himself.”
Darling’s call-up Sunday meant Raanta was sent down to the AHL. Where Raanta fits in now is questionable, but Quenneville said Raanta still had a place in the organization.
“Yes, absolutely,” Quenneville said. “We want him playing and get him a chance to go down there and play some games and get going and get a feeling of it as well.”
Quenneville also continued to back Crawford, who has allowed eight goals over the last two games. Quenneville said Darling was starting Tuesday to give Crawford some rest.
“You know, Crow’s played seven straight home games and it gives [Darling] a chance,” Quenneville said. “We were talking about the opportunity. [Crawford’s] last couple were ordinary, but that’s where it’s at.”