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Why Scott Darling’s Contract Cost Four People Their Jobs

In retrospect, the goaltender’s deal ended up unraveling large portions of the Hurricanes as we once knew them.

Jamie Kellner

The Carolina Hurricanes putting Scott Darling on waivers Thursday afternoon might have come as a surprise, given their obvious and understandable propensity to avoid burying a $4 million annual expenditure in the minor leagues, but it was - as we pointed out on Sunday - a necessary step to take. What is striking, in retrospect, is that the single act of signing Darling to that large contract had so many downstream implications.

In fact, in thinking back through it, you could make the case that four people lost their jobs (either by their own action or by virtue of someone else making the decision for them) as a direct result of Ron Francis inking Darling to a four-year, $16.6 million contract in April of 2017.

Let’s start with the obvious:

Scott Darling

If he’s the goalie that Francis thought he was signing, he’d still be here and would be earning his money. Instead, he’s exiled to Charlotte, and is a likely buyout candidate this summer - that is, assuming Tom Dundon signs off on paying Darling more than a million dollars a year until 2023 to not play for his team. Which is no guarantee, especially given that he’s already paying Alexander Semin $2.3 million a season until 2021 to not play for the Hurricanes.

We’ve rehashed this enough. Let’s move on.

Ron Francis

My own freezing cold take just keeps looking better and better. You might recall it. It was the one where I declared Francis a ninja for signing Darling to a contract that was eminently reasonable on its face, taking a dive in the final year of the deal when the Canes had big money extensions kicking in.

I mean, this is a classic:

Hoo boy. And the kicker:

You can’t get that #analysis simply anywhere, folks.

Seriously, others have made the point that if Darling has even an average season, the Hurricanes probably make the playoffs and Francis probably still has a job, although given the obvious internal tug of war between Dundon and Francis following the former’s purchase of the team, that’s far from a guarantee. But the Darling contract was the accelerant on the fire, and likely hastened Francis’ exit.

Side note: I know the Philadelphia Flyers are currently sniffing around Chuck Fletcher to be their new GM, but for a couple of days when Francis was being floated about as a possible replacement for Ron Hextall, I was flabbergasted. They fired Hextall because he was too patient, and their answer was to pursue...the most patient GM any of us have ever seen? Uh, OK.

Bill Peters

If Francis doesn’t go, does Peters exercise the out clause in his contract? Recalling what was said earlier about Francis’ patience having no appreciable bottom, it seems like a fairly straightforward line to draw to say that in an alternate universe, both are still here this season.

Darling did his coach no favors last season, and if you’re Peters, knowing that the team was planning to bring Darling back again, why wouldn’t you throw up your arms and say to heck with all this? There’s no reason to sign up for another year of misery. But had Darling lived up to that contract, again: chances are the Hurricanes make the playoffs, and we’re probably in year five of the Bill Peters era.

Cam Ward

I know, I know. Spare me your invective in the comments, if you don’t mind.

Recall that the Hurricanes had come out and said before last season that Darling would be the starter, and Ward, entering the final year of his contract, would be the backup. Generally speaking - and with the obvious caveat that nothing involving Cam Ward could ever be this straightforward - most people would be fine with this.

Then Darling happened, and the Canes were forced to turn to Ward again. It was untenable that they would use the same tandem this season, and they cast their lot with Darling and Ward hit the market.

Whereupon he landed in Chicago, to serve as the Blackhawks’ backup to Corey Crawford, and has generally had good success in that role.

All this is to say that Ward could still be here had he not been pressed into service as the de facto number one last year. He’d be the backup, and he’s proving this year that he can still find success in that role.

Honorable Mention: Jeff Skinner

Boy, I really want to set the comments on fire here.

If the Hurricanes make the playoffs last season, perhaps Skinner still asks for a change of scenery. But at least then the Canes could have theoretically moved him for more than spare parts. He was never going to get Sebastian Aho money here, so this may be a tenuous connection given that there were more moving parts than simply wanting out of a playoff-less situation, but would Skinner have been more tempted to hang around had the Canes gotten to the postseason on the back of the Darling they thought they had acquired?

Unrelated to anything else that happened today, Micheal Ferland missed practice this morning with what Rod Brind’Amour described as essentially a minor knock. That resulted in a domino effect that saw Phil Di Giuseppe (!) centering the fourth line, the reuniting of the TSA line, and Victor Rask between Brock McGinn and Justin Williams.

To account for the possibility that Ferland might not play tomorrow, the Canes recalled Clark Bishop from Charlotte to center the fourth line if necessary. Haydn Fleury (concussion), who practiced today with a non-contact jersey, was moved to injured reserve to open up a roster spot, retroactive to last Friday so he can be activated at any time after tomorrow’s game. The release from the team is below.


Fleury has missed two games (concussion)

Don Waddell, President and General Manager of the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, today announced that the team has recalled forward Clark Bishop from the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League and placed defenseman Haydn Fleury on injured reserve retroactive to Nov. 23.

Bishop, 22, has been recalled for the third time this season. He has skated in seven games with the Hurricanes in 2018-19, making his NHL debut on Oct. 20 vs. Colorado. The St. John’s, N.L., native has played 12 AHL games with the Checkers this year, posting five points (3g, 2a), and he has recorded 39 points (12g, 27a) in 122 career AHL games. The 6’1”, 199-pound forward was drafted by Carolina in the fifth round (127th overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft.

Fleury, 22, has missed two games since sustaining a concussion on Nov. 23 vs. Florida. The 6’3”, 208-pound defenseman has skated in eight games with the Hurricanes this season, registering one assist. Fleury has posted eight assists in 75 career games with Carolina after making his NHL debut last season. The Carlyle, Sask., native was selected by the Hurricanes in the first round (seventh overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft.