LOS ANGELES — It’s already well-established that this summer’s goalie market is going to be interesting.
A slew of guys are set to hit unrestricted free agency, and — in addition to teams needing to address the position — the expansion Las Vegas franchise has to fill out its roster as well.
A name that’s garnered plenty of attention recently is Chicago backup Scott Darling. And on Saturday, the guy Darling’s currently behind — second-time All-Star Corey Crawford — put forth a glowing recommendation for his crease mate.
“Definitely,” Crawford said, when asked if Darling is starting netminder material. “He’s already come along and learned so many things in his first two years. He’s a big guy that can move well, and there’s still a lot of things to learn.
“I had to learn that too, in my second year. Being a No. 1, there’s a lot more that goes into it — a little more pressure, and some other things that start to come up that you have to deal with. But as far as skill and technique and mental toughness and all that stuff, Darls has come a long way.”
Darling, 28, is in the midst of a banner campaign. As mentioned, he has ideal size — 6-foot-6 — and showed extremely well this year as the temporary starter, when Crawford went down with appendicitis.
All told, Darling is 12-5-2 with a .925 save percentage and 2.31 GAA. And his body of work over the course of his brief NHL career lends credence to the notion he could be a No. 1 — in 65 games, he’s posted a .923 save percentage and 2.34 GAA.
Darling is an absolute bargain right now, in the last of a two-year deal with a minuscule $587,500 cap hit.
That will likely change this summer.
And along with it, his zip code could change too.
Chicago’s starting gig will stay with Crawford, who’s backstopped the team to a pair of Stanley Cups. This is his second All-Star Game appearance in the last three seasons, and he further cemented his status as one of the NHL’s best this past offseason, when he was one of three goalies named to Team Canada at the World Cup (along with Braden Holtby and Carey Price, the two reigning Vezina winners).
As such, opportunity and a nice payday are probably coming from somewhere other than the Windy City.
The big question, of course, is where Darling fits in what projects to be a fluid market. Guys with starting experience — like Ben Bishop, Ryan Miller, Brian Elliott, Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth — could all come available.
And backups like Darling — Buffalo’s Anders Nilsson, New Jersey’s Keith Kinkaid, Ottawa’s Mike Condon and Calgary’s Chad Johnson — are also having good-to-great years, and could be up for grabs as well.
And, lest we forget, there’s a situation in Pittsburgh where one of Matt Murray or Marc-Andre Fleury will have to be left unprotected in the expansion draft.
Whatever the case, Crawford’s words suggest Darling will be a key figure this summer.
“He’s definitely up there for a spot, for sure,” he said. “He’s a great guy to play with, and just a great guy to be around too.
“It’s been awesome having him as a teammate.”