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Scott Darling contract proves that Hurricanes’ Ron Francis might actually be a ninja

What the Canes’ GM pulled off in signing their new goaltender is nothing short of remarkable in multiple ways.

Scott Darling and Victor Rask: rivals in December, now teammates.
Jamie Kellner

Remember former Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford’s vaunted “pimp hand?” You know, the one that did this?

And this?

And even this?

Now, none of these are here to canonize Rutherford; after all, there was a good bit of excitement, for example, when he signed Alexander Semin to a five-year deal, and we all know how that turned out. But the point here is that JR had a reputation for deals that made hockey as well as financial sense for the Hurricanes at the time they were signed.

Which brings us to his successor, Ron Francis. After seeing this contract...never mind a pimp hand, Francis might actually be a head-to-toe ninja.

Read that and admire the genius. It’s a beautiful contract on multiple counts.

First, it proved to Darling that he is the Canes’ guy. With nearly $10 million of a $16-ish million deal coming in the first two years of the contract, Darling gets paid. If you were worried that Francis would lowball Darling and send him into free agency on July 1, fear not. The Canes have cash and cap room to spare the next few years, and they could afford to show Darling that they wanted him here. Paying almost two-thirds of his salary in the first two years of a four-year deal does the trick.

And take a look at the CapFriendly comparables to Darling’s contract. He’s closest to Cam Talbot, who at last report is backstopping the Edmonton Oilers to within a win of the Western Conference final, but then look at who else is on that list. Antti Niemi? Jaroslav Halak? Karri Ramo? Outside of Talbot and maybe Devan Dubnyk on a good day, who else on that list would you rather have at this price point?

Speaking of the price point, the list of unrestricted free agent goaltenders this summer is...uh, rather uninspiring. Ben Bishop is going to get paid by someone. So, too, will Steve Mason. After those two you’re getting into the territory of guys like Brian Elliott, Jonathan Bernier and (gulp) Ondrej Pavelec. Each of those players will likely command a contract at least as expensive as Darling’s, and likely more. Again: who would you rather have?

Third, even with the up-front money, it still doesn’t break the bank. In the two highest-paid years of the contract, Darling will be no higher than the Canes’ fourth highest-paid player, behind Jordan Staal ($6 million), Jeff Skinner (also $6 million) and Justin Faulk ($5.5 million). The Canes still have room to add a contract (or two) in the next couple of years.

They might not be able to do so a few years hence, and that’s where the true genius of this deal reveals itself. How often do you see a contract for a player signed at age 28 actually drop in salary over the course of the deal? Yet that’s what Francis pulled off.

Noah Hanifin, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin are all making under $1 million on their rookie deals at the moment. They’re all due for new contracts after next season. Assuming each of them are signed, you’re probably looking at upwards of $13 million per season for the three of them combined. Sebastian Aho follows a year later, and his bump may be even more pronounced, up into the Skinner-level stratosphere. Assuming there isn’t a trade that moves one of those four out somewhere along the line, the Canes will probably have about $19-20 million committed to those four players beginning in the 2019-20 season.

So what does Francis do? He structures the deal so that the Canes will be on the hook for less of Darling’s salary in the latter two years of the contract, just in time for those extensions to kick in. Darling gets his money up front, when the Canes can afford it, and Francis has set the team up to be able to afford all the extensions that are coming down the line in a few years.

There has been plenty said about Francis’ patience seemingly having no end. This contract proves it to be true, and it’s a good thing it is. Francis is playing chess when the rest of us are playing checkers, and the Hurricanes will be better off for it years down the road.