Is Scott Darling the next Cam Talbot? That's a popular narrative these days as people around the league ponder the future of the Chicago Blackhawks' backup goalie, who will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.
That future is not going to unfold in Chicago, that's for sure.
Darling, 28, will attempt to become a No. 1 next season -- and he'll obviously have to do it elsewhere, as the stellar Corey Crawford is a fixture in Chicago.
Talbot, of course, was the understudy to Henrik Lundqvist with the New York Rangers, and the Edmonton Oilers took a chance that Talbot was ready to be a No. 1 when they traded for him at the 2015 draft. They were right. He's been brilliant.
Can Darling duplicate that feat?
The coach added that he likes Darling's chances of making the transition, noting that, "Not many 6-foot-6 guys move like him."
But his size alone doesn't make it a sure thing. One NHL scout worries that the Blackhawks have protected Darling well defensively so it's hard to tell if he's truly No. 1 material.
Still, his .930 save percentage (in 29 games) is second-best in the league. That has to be worth something.
I'd be shocked if the Hurricanes and Stars aren't among the teams that reach out to Darling's camp once the unrestricted free agent window opens in late June. Both teams need an upgrade in goal -- although there will be lots of other options out there, too.
The question we won't be able to answer until it plays out for real is how Darling would handle a No. 1's workload and the pressure that comes with that.
Either way, he's due for a nice raise from the $600,000 he's earning this season -- and there are lots of people rooting for his success. Darling is a very likeable player who grew up in the Chicago suburbs cheering for the Blackhawks.
There will be many moving parts on the goalie market this summer, but Darling is among the most intriguing ones.
Defenseman Cam Fowler is one year away from unrestricted free agency. I'm told that -- plus the expansion draft looming this June -- is why the Anaheim Ducks have had preliminary discussions with Fowler's agent, Pat Brisson, to feel out the situation. Ideally, the Ducks would like to sign Fowler on July 1 to an extension and keep him around for a long time. But if they can't get that done, or conclude before the expansion draft that it's not getting done, it will certainly affect whom they protect, whom they trade and whom they keep among their deep list of defensemen. In other words, after nearly trading Fowler last June, Anaheim might actually deal him this June if it thinks it can't sign him. But again, the Ducks' preference would be to keep him long term. They are focused on the playoffs now, but once the season ends, discussion about Fowler's future will pick up again.
Brian Elliott has had an unbelievable run in goal for the Calgary Flames during the past few weeks, but he really has been solid most of the second half after a rocky start to the season. All of that has some wondering what the future holds for the pending UFA. Elliott likes it in Calgary and would be interested in signing an extension to stay on past this season. The feeling might very well be mutual. But for now, the game plan for the Flames' front office is to wait until after the season to address Elliott's situation. They don't want to add any distractions as the team tries to nail down a postseason berth and then -- team brass hopes -- goes on a playoff run.
Vancouver Canucks GM Jim Benning plans to sit down with Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin after the season to discuss their futures. But unless something dramatic changes between now and then, I believe the likely scenario is for the twins to return next season and play out the final year of their respective contracts. While some wonder if it's time for the 36-year-old forwards to move on, I think the Canucks greatly value their presence and leadership among the team's youth movement as the transition continues in Vancouver. And besides, not to be a cynic, but good luck trying to move their combined $14 million in salary (each Sedin makes $7 million).
One interesting side note to the Minnesota Wild's March slide is the fact that the team has had only four full off-day practices in 21 days this month. Between playing 16 games in 29 days from March 2 through March 30, a mandated CBA day off and the need for rest during the Wild's most compressed part of the schedule, they're gasping for air. They have also rarely been able to use real practice time to try to fix their current issues during this tough stretch. Minnesota still skates on the morning of game days, but that's about a 15-minute leg stretch. It's not the same. You don't want to put players through a grueling practice on the day of a game for fear of grinding them down before that night's action. Minnesota will have a full, off-day practice again Wednesday. As Wild beat writer Michael Russo wrote Tuesday, perhaps the lack of true practice time has also affected goalie Devan Dubnyk, whose March numbers are decidedly un-Doobie like.