Scott Darling unsure of future with Blackhawks as he prepares to hit free agency

Scott Darling unsure of future with Blackhawks as he prepares to hit free agency

Scott Darling is in a tough spot.

The Lemont native has repeatedly expressed how much he enjoys playing for his hometown Blackhawks, but he's also proven that he can handle the responsibilities that comes with being a No. 1 goaltender in the NHL.

And it's hard to envision a scenario where that happens here in Chicago as he prepares to hit unrestricted free agency on July 1, meaning his days in an Indianhead sweater could be numbered.

During the end-of-the-season press conference Saturday, Darling said he "hasn't really thought about what's going to happen" this summer, but admitted he feels like he's ready to be a full-time starter.

"Yeah, I feel like I've paid my dues as a backup," he said. "And when I've had a chance to play in consecutive games I feel like I've shown that I can do it."

He certainly has.

Darling, 28, had his best — and most consistent — campaign with the Blackhawks in 2016-17, finishing with an 18-5-5 record, a 2.38 goals against average and .924 save percentage, which ranked tied for fourth in the league. He also recorded a pair of shutouts.

It's enough to earn him a big and well-deserved pay raise — something the Blackhawks likely can't afford with (a bargain) $6 million committed to Corey Crawford through 2019-20 — after carrying a $587,500 cap hit the last two years.

"I think that he really did give us some outstanding goaltending this year (and) throughout the years here," Joel Quenneville said of Darling. "I don’t know how it’s all going to play out, but you know that he’s come a long way and progression has been something that he’s ... earned the opportunity to get the next challenge or the next step."

Crawford developed a strong bond with Darling as they shared the crease together for three years, and he had nothing but high remarks to say about his teammate.

"Scott has been great," he said. "He keeps getting better. This year he was unbelievable for us. A big guy who can move (as well as) any guy in the league. He sees the puck well. I don't know what that situation holds, but he was great for us this year."

There will undoubtedly be several teams interested in Darling's services this offseason, with the Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars pegged as potential solid fits. Perhaps he's an option for the Las Vegas Golden Knights, too.

But it's still early to tell, and things can change quickly over the next couple months. 

"I don't really know the landscape of the teams," Darling said. "Goalie situations change so much in the summer, so you really can't forecast it. Still got to talk to the Hawks and see what they think. I don't really know yet, so we'll see what happens."

"I'm excited to see how it plays out. But it's going to be a long couple months of waiting."

After Darling's media session concluded, he shooks the hands of a few media members and smiled, saying, "just in case."

Right before that, he was asked to summarize what his journey has been like with the Blackhawks and fought back emotions when describing how special his time in Chicago has been for him.

"If that does happen, I wouldn't change a second of my time in Chicago," Darling said. "It's been bar-none the best three years of my life. Loved every second. They've been so great to me, my teammates, coaching staff, front office, everybody's been amazing. I wouldn't change a minute."

Facing the Blackhawks in Round One is 'going to be fun' for Robin Lehner

Facing the Blackhawks in Round One is 'going to be fun' for Robin Lehner

Saturday afternoon, after eliminating the Oilers in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers in Game 4 on Friday night, the Blackhawks learned they'll be facing the Vegas Golden Knights and very likely a certain former Hawks goalie in Round One.

Robin Lehner was in net for the Knights in their overtime win against the Colorado Avalanche to help Vegas grab the No. 1 seed in the West for Round One, pitting them against the Blackhawks, who were the No. 12 seed in the qualifying round.

Related: Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner unveils new pads

Lehner has seen the majority of the starts in net for the Knights at the beginning of the postseason tournament over three-time Stanley Cup champ Marc-Andre Fleury.

The 2019 Vezina Trophy finalist was traded from Chicago to Vegas ahead of Feb. 24's trade deadline. He was 16-10-5 as a Hawk during the 2019-20 regular season with a 3.01 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage prior to the move.

Related: Former Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner's birthday cake is unreal

Following Saturday's game, Lehner was asked about facing the Blackhawks and his former goalie partner Corey Crawford in Round One and if playing with them earlier this season carries an advantage.

"I don't know. All I know is it's going to be fun playing them," Lehner said. "They're a very good hockey team and I have a lot of respect for them, the whole organization... but I think I really like it here (with Vegas), we're a great hockey team."

The 29-year-old netminder got off to a hot start with Vegas ahead of the NHL pause on March 12 going 3-0-0 with 1.67 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. 

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Blackhawks to face Robin Lehner, Vegas in Round 1 of Stanley Cup Playoffs

Blackhawks to face Robin Lehner, Vegas in Round 1 of Stanley Cup Playoffs

It's official: The Blackhawks will face Robin Lehner and the Vegas Golden Knights in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Golden Knights defeated the Colorado Avalanche 4-3 overtime win in Saturday's round-robin finale to secure the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The Blackhawks, who eliminated the Edmonton Oilers in four games on Friday, will serve as the No. 8 seed.

The Blackhawks went 1-1-1 and had a minus-2 goal differential in three games against the Golden Knights this season. Their most recent matchup was on Dec. 11, which resulted in a 5-1 win for the Golden Knights.

You won't find a better puck possession team in the league than the Golden Knights, who generated the most scoring chances and high-danger chances at even strength of any team this season. The Blackhawks will certainly have their work cut out for them.

"It’s a great challenge for us," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I'm happy that we get the opportunity to prepare for them and compete against them. We feel that we’ve been getting better all the time and it’s going to be a great test for us."

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