Blackhawks

Days as Blackhawks' fill-in prepped Scott Darling for role as Hurricanes' new No. 1

1110_darling.jpg
USA TODAY

Days as Blackhawks' fill-in prepped Scott Darling for role as Hurricanes' new No. 1

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Scott Darling was used to dealing with the on-ice pressure from his time with the Blackhawks. From his stellar performance against the Nashville Predators in April 2015 to taking over when Corey Crawford had appendicitis last December, Darling showed he could handle a No. 1 goaltending job someday.

But for Darling, earning that status has been as much about the right attitude as the experience.

“I don’t know if the transition to starter was that tough. It’s always something I’ve been excited about and really enjoyed when I got the opportunity in Chicago if Crow was hurt or sick or something. It’s (more) the big life change, to move (somewhere) I’ve never really been other than to play the Hurricanes,” Darling said. “So that transition, it took a little bit and I’m finally comfortable.”

Darling had a few tough games but is getting back to form lately, giving up just two goals in his last two games. And he’ll start on Saturday night when the Hurricanes host the Blackhawks at PNC Arena. As of Friday, Darling is seventh in the league with a 2.35 goals-against average, and Carolina coach Bill Peters said Darling’s transition to starter has been “fairly seamless.”

“He’s playing really well for us,” Peters said. “It’s a good combination of our goaltenders. There’s a bit of a different style among the two (Darling and Cam Ward) and the things we’ve asked Scotty to work on, he’s done an excellent job. So I think he’s really trending in the right direction.”

Darling is one of six former Blackhawks on Carolina’s roster right now and having that many familiar faces has helped him get used to the new surroundings. On the ice, the Hurricanes have either struggled to score goals or have given up leads late. It’s led to some disappointing outcomes and players say Darling’s deserved a better fate in some of those games.

“We’ve played 13 games and we’ve had a chance to win them all. They’ve been close games. We know we can always trust him and he’s been playing great for us,” Marcus Kruger said of Darling. “Hopefully we can win a few more games here for him because he really deserves that.”

Carolina forward Jeff Skinner said Darling has had a calming influence on the Hurricanes.

“He’s big and steady, big and strong back there and settles everyone down. I think obviously when you add a player of his pedigree, especially in that position, it can settle guys down,” Skinner said. “We have a lot of young guys who have played a lot of minutes and played big roles on our back end, but having him back there has definitely been a positive.”

Asked about playing that settle-down role, Darling said, “I think it’s just they’ve been through some tough years here recently, and not just myself but having all of these new guys who have a winning pedigree the last couple of years and want to win and know how to win, it’s been good for the whole team and all the young guys. It’s just knowing what to say in the locker room, not getting flustered or giving up if we get down a goal or something like that.”

Darling’s biggest transition was off the ice, getting used to a new city and a new organization. Considering the on-ice situations he faced in the hopes of eventually getting a No. 1 goaltending job, the adjustment to that has been fairly smooth.

“It’s a new organization, new people, new bosses, learning how things work here. So that’s been a transition,” Darling said. “But on the ice it’s just hockey and I feel pretty comfortable.”

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

ryan_hartman_usa_today.jpg
USA TODAY

Why Ryan Hartman is betting on himself going into another contract year with Predators

Ryan Hartman has been through this before. Back in December of 2012, he sustained a torn labrum in his right shoulder but played through it because the Plymouth Whalers were in the middle of a playoff run. He waited until the offseason to have it surgically repaired and was cleared for contact just in time for him to attend his first training camp with the Blackhawks in September of 2013.

This time was a little different though.

Hartman had been acquired by the Nashville Predators at the trade deadline in exchange for prospect Victor Ejdsell and a 2018 first- and fourth-round pick — a hefty price to pay — in hopes of serving as an additional spark plug for a Predators team looking to load up for a second consecutive Stanley Cup run.

So when Hartman was brushed by Nathan MacKinnon along the boards, lost his footing and fell on his left shoulder late in Game 4 of the first round against Colorado, he immediately knew something was up.

"It didn't feel great at all," said Hartman, who went straight to the dressing room and had team doctors pop it back into place. "I finished the game and was able to finish playoffs in like a modified sling, which sucked to play with, but it's playoffs. It's one of those things where there are many guys playing through injuries and I was one of them."

Hartman, who's been rehabbing and training in Chicago, received the green light to fully participate in hockey-related drills last Monday but was advised to delay his Chicago Pro Hockey League debut for one more week just to err on the side of caution. On Wednesday, he got back into a game-type setting and "felt good" after 50 minutes of action going up against former teammates Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane.

Now he can fully focus on this upcoming season and amp up his on-ice training to a level he couldn't get to while recovering from shoulder surgery with training camp a month away.

Hartman was a restricted free agent this summer and recently re-signed with the Predators on a one-year deal worth $875,000. Clearly, he's betting on himself to bounce back to his rookie year form when he scored 19 goals and cash out on a larger paycheck down the line, even though he had multiple longer-term offers from the Predators.

"Yeah we talked, [GM David Poile] wants me to be there, I want to be there, we have a good relationship," Hartman said. "Obviously, he gave up a lot of stuff to take me and sees me in the future of the team and I see myself there too. There's a lot of little things that go into negotiations — if it's money wise or length — and there was a various amount [of offers] that was thrown out on both sides. With no [arbitration] rights, the best thing for me and my team was to bet on myself, take the year and go from there next year."

With that comes the pressure of having to earn another contract for the second straight year, which is also risky considering he's coming off an injury that sidelined him all summer. But that's just the way he wants it.

"Either way I want to play my best, if I have a contract or not for long-term," Hartman said. "There is the benefit of having security with long-term deals, but you see guys, in history, that sign these deals and maybe have a year or two of, not really being complacent, but just feeling satisfied. I don't like the feeling of being satisfied. I'm not saying that's why I took that contract over another contract, but it was a good month and a half of debating one of the other three [offers]. My family and my agent, we chose this was the best for me and the team as well."

It's easy to see why the Predators are happy with this deal, too. Hartman is better suited to play in a bottom-six role on a really good team but has the ability to play in the top-six if needed. A strong season out of him and they'll be happy to reward him with a longer-term offer next summer. It also means he'd be making an impact while making less than $1 million, and every contending team needs those contributions from their depth players.

Pull up the Predators' CapFriendly page and you'll notice generous contract after generous contract for a majority of their players, particularly their core group. Look no further than Ryan Ellis, who signed an eight-year extension on Tuesday that carries a cap hit of $6.25 million. He certainly left money on the table but elected to take less to follow the lead of everyone else in Nashville because the ultimate goal is to keep the band together.

"You look at Sidney Crosby, one of the best players in the league, isn't even making close to the most money in the league and that's a reason why they've won two Cups," Hartman said. "They have space, maybe not necessarily as much as the Preds do, but Poile's good at that, he's good at stressing winning, the importance of winning, and keeping a team together. Sometimes when you go year to year losing four or five players every summer, it takes a toll having to introduce yourself to new guys all the time. Keeping the same group is really beneficial."

The Predators won't have to do much introducing next month. They're essentially rolling back the same team that arguably would've reached the Stanley Cup Final if they had gotten past the Winnipeg Jets. Hartman will be an important part of that group, only this time he'll be there from the start.

"That's what I'm really excited for," he said. "It's tough coming in [halfway through the season], it kind of feels like ... it's your first time getting called up with the new team. You're adjusting, you're trying not to make a mistake, trying to earn a spot, per se, earn the respect of your peers, so having that and going through a playoff run and a Game 7, if you go through a Game 7 with anybody, it's a bond. The stuff you fight through and you play for each other, to be able to go through a training camp and the ups and downs throughout the whole season, it's going to be exciting. I fell in love with the group for the short time I was there and I'm excited to be there at the start of training camp."

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

Start of the Blackhawks Dynasty, Part 4: Roster overview

In a 10-part series, we look back at the 10-year anniversary of the 2008-09 season, the start of the Blackhawks dynasty.

Starting a dynasty means you have to identify a group of core players to build your team around. Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Jonathan Toews were those guys, along with Marian Hossa, who joined that mix later on.

You also need a mixture of young talent and strong veterans to fill out the depth to become successful. That's exactly what the Blackhawks had at the beginning of their dynasty and throughout.

On the first day of NHL free agency in 2008, the Blackhawks inked All-Star defenseman Brian Campbell to an eight-year deal, which solidified Chicago as a destination players wanted to commit to long term. That same year, Kris Versteeg emerged as the Blackhawks' third Calder Trophy candidate in two years, Martin Havlat and Andrew Ladd set a career high in points with 77 and 49, respectively, while youngsters Dave Bolland, Troy Brouwer and Dustin Byfuglien began to make a name for themselves as valuable pieces to the puzzle.

"Real good group of guys," Joel Quenneville said on Oct. 18, 2008. "I can say that it's the first time I walked in the room where, wow, I was impressed."

Six of the Blackhawks' Top 10 scorers in 2008-09 were aged 23 or younger. The average age for the other four? 27. The youth movement was real and they all contributed in a big way.