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Scott Darling Trade: What to Expect from the former Chicago Blackhawk with the Carolina Hurricanes

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Comparing Scott Darling to a trio of former backups turned starters could be an indicator of what we’ll see from the Canes’ newest player.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Colorado Avalanche Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Before even signing a contract to assure his future with the Carolina Hurricanes, pending UFA Scott Darling has already been dubbed the Canes’ Next Big Thing in net.

A three-year backup to Corey Crawford and a 2015 Stanley Cup champion after years of toiling in the lower leagues of hockey, Darling’s had a long road to get where he is, and the time seems right for the 28-year-old.

It was necessary that Ron Francis and his regime acquire a goalie. His team is in desperate need of goalie help after years of disappointment in the crease, and two months of exclusive negotiating rights with Darling certainly makes it seem like a safe bet for the two sides to iron a deal out and move into the 2017-18 season with a lot of optimism.

The question now: what should we expect from a guy who hasn’t spent a full season as a starter in the NHL?

The numbers are certainly in his favor, both when compared to the Canes’ tandem of Cam Ward and Eddie Lack, as well as previous examples of goalies who made the jump from backup roles to starter roles.

Last season, Darling’s numbers stacked up well to both of Carolina’s goalies.

2016-17 Season Stats

Statistic Cam Ward Eddie Lack Scott Darling
Statistic Cam Ward Eddie Lack Scott Darling
Appearances 61 19 32
ES Save Pctg 0.913 0.922 0.937
Overall Save Pctg 0.905 0.902 0.924
GAA 2.69 2.64 2.38
Low-danger sv% 0.983 0.988 0.973
Medium-danger sv% 0.914 0.929 0.947
High-danger sv% 0.776 0.806 0.865
Data from Corsica.hockey

Darling had roughly half the appearances of Ward, who started most of the season for Carolina.

The only category where Darling was outplayed by Ward is his low damage save percentage, which has been an area of concern for Darling in the past. He posted a .960 LDSv% the season prior.

The struggles of both Ward and Lack have been well documented over the past two seasons, and the former backup’s numbers have been spectacular in Chicago. That’s why he’s in this situation to begin with.

A more fair comparison of what to expect from Darling is found elsewhere.

Cam Talbot, Martin Jones, and Cory Schneider are three recent examples of backups-turned-starters panning out very well for the teams that took chances on them.

Final Backup Season

Statistic Cory Schneider Martin Jones Cam Talbot Scott Darling
Statistic Cory Schneider Martin Jones Cam Talbot Scott Darling
Season 2012-13 2014-15 2014-15 2016-17
Appearances 30 15 36 32
ES Save Pctg 0.925 0.916 0.930 0.937
Overall Save Pctg 0.927 0.906 0.926 0.924
GAA 2.11 2.25 2.21 2.38
Low-danger sv% 0.985 0.972 0.984 0.973
Medium-danger sv% 0.906 0.940 0.922 0.947
High-danger sv% 0.867 0.776 0.845 0.865
Data from Corsica.hockey

The chart above shows each goalie in their final year in backup duty.

Cory Schneider is a special case for two reasons: this was during the 2012-13 season, which was shortened by the lockout and was more prone to flukes, and he was less of a backup and more of a dual starter with Roberto Luongo.

Martin Jones didn’t put up spectacular numbers in his final backup year, but he stood out in the 2013-14 campaign.

Outside of Jones, there’s a common thread with all of these goalies - they were all very good in their final backup seasons. The different danger situations all brought different numbers, in which different goalies excelled in different areas, but as a whole, they all performed well.

The transition from one team to another can be daunting, especially for goalies. The move from one system to another with a brand new group of defensemen can be a tall task, but all three made a solid transition.

First Starting Season

Statistic Cory Schneider Martin Jones Cam Talbot
Statistic Cory Schneider Martin Jones Cam Talbot
Season 2013-14 2015-16 2015-16
Appearances 45 65 56
ES Save Pctg 0.924 0.925 0.920
Overall Save Pctg 0.921 0.918 0.917
GAA 1.97 2.27 2.55
Low-danger sv% 0.983 0.981 0.972
Medium-danger sv% 0.940 0.910 0.935
High-danger sv% 0.790 0.836 0.780
Data from Corsica.hockey

This chart shows each of the three goalie’s first season as a starter and while all of them took a hit to their save percentages, they are all within reason.

It’s important to have tempered expectations with goalies as they go from playing 20-30 games to 55-65 games. The playing time increases significantly, in some cases even tripling, so the variation also increases. With more ice time comes more chances for defensive breakdowns.

Schneider’s first season in New Jersey was spectacular, though broken up due to injury.

Jones and Talbot weren’t far off at all from Schneider’s level of play. Jones went into a very good team in San Jose and played well, but Talbot went into an absolute dumpster fire of an Oilers team and still put up impressive numbers for a first-year starter.

I think the best you can ask of a first-year guy is what New Jersey got from Schneider and a more reasonable expectation is Jones’ performance. While Talbot’s performance was similar, Jones was playing behind a much more experienced lineup.

The last thing we are going to look at is each goalie’s second full season as a starter.

Second Starting Season

Statistic Cory Schneider Martin Jones Cam Talbot
Statistic Cory Schneider Martin Jones Cam Talbot
Season 2014-15 2016-17 2016-17
Appearances 69 65 73
ES Save Pctg 0.934 0.916 0.928
Overall Save Pctg 0.925 0.912 0.919
GAA 2.26 2.40 2.39
Low-danger sv% 0.971 0.979 0.982
Medium-danger sv% 0.943 0.912 0.953
High-danger sv% 0.848 0.819 0.810
Data from Corsica.hockey

The common thread here is that each goalie’s appearances went up, so the team liked what they saw and put more trust in them.

Schneider and Talbot both played better than they did the season before, while Jones’ numbers faltered a bit.

Adding Patrick Maroon, Milan Lucic, and Adam Larsson among others to the Oilers helped Talbot, but this past season he proved that he is a legitimate number-one NHL goaltender. He was very good and he’ll be Edmonton’s goalie for a while.

Jones struggled at times as a second-year starter, but he still performed at an above average level and led his team to a playoff berth.

The best comparable for Darling is probably Talbot. Darling and Talbot both put up several years of high-level backup play on a good, if not great, team. All of their numbers in their final year of backup duty are very similar and they played behind high-level goalies, Crawford and Henrik Lundqvist.

Talbot has been the middle ground between Schneider and Jones in regards to his numbers since they turned into starters. Schneider has risen to be an elite goalie, Jones is an average, if not slightly above average goalie, and Talbot is an above average NHL goalie.

If the Hurricanes get a performance like any of the goalies outlined above, they should be happy. All they need is average NHL goaltending in order to be a playoff team, so if history repeats itself here, they will be in a very good situation with Scott Darling in the crease.