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."