Like he stepped right out of a novel. Or a movie script.
Bull Durham and Reggie Dunlop, meet Scott Darling.
Teams have got to be resourceful in the salary cap era, particularly teams like the Chicago Blackhawks who like to be close to the cap at all times.
Turns out, the July signing of Darling, a well travelled minor league goalie and a Chicago native to boot, may have been one of those resourceful moves.
Darling, 25, was in something called the Southern Professional Hockey League with a club called the Mississippi River Kings just four years ago, but on Sunday night found himself at the United Center — and on Rogers Hometown Hockey across Canada – playing goal for the Blackhawks as they tried to bounce back after two straight losses.
He was very good early, making five key stops in the first half of the first period, and rock solid the rest of the way with 32 saves in all as Chicago beat punchless Ottawa 2-1.
“Maybe I had some bad days,” said Darling of his long hockey journey. “But I just tried to keep my nose to the grindstone, and it’s paid off.”
He’s a 6-foot-6, 230 pounder who takes up a lot of the net. After Antti Raanta gave up a bad one to the Blues on Saturday night, coach Joel Quenneville told Darling on the flight back to the Windy City he was going in Sunday as the first Chicago native to play for the team since Danny Richmond six seasons ago.
Now, Corey Crawford, out since Oct. 18 with an injury, skated on Sunday and is expected to be back in the next week or so. Darling’s stay, then, may be short.
Still, it will be interesting to see who Quenneville turns to against Anaheim on Tuesday for a big Western Conference clash.
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—Wouldn’t read too much into the demotion of Stuart Percy. He played well for the Leafs, but going with three defencemen under the age of 24 is difficult at the best of times and the intention, even after Percy cracked the NHL lineup to start the season, was always that he would play some games in the AHL this season.
The Leafs, meanwhile, are trying to expand their minor league system by using their ECHL affiliate in Orlando more after sharing the affiliation with Minnesota last season. Right now, prospects Brad Ross, Tyler Biggs, Eric Knodel and Garrett Sparks are all with the Solar Bears, with the thinking playing a lot and in key roles in Orlando is better for their development than playing a little, or not at all, with the Marlies.
—Percy, the 25th pick of the 2011 draft, might be disappointed by his demotion, but a player taken fourth overall that year, New Jersey defender Adam Larsson, has got to be downright frustrated. Larsson spurned several KHL offers to return to the Devils this season, but so far he has dressed for one game, with an impressive younger blueliner, Damon Severson, having taken his spot. Severson is another graduate of that defence factory in Kelowna.
—Tim Leiweke, CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, told me late last week he will be at the MLSE board meeting this Friday and is continuing to go about his business, from nailing down Toronto as primary host of the 2016 World Cup of Hockey to trying to fix Toronto FC to getting the Raptors’ new practice facility finished. But he knows he’s gone as soon as MLSE finds his replacement, which could happen in the next month.
There seems very little chance he’ll be around until the end of his contract in June, with the end of December his likeliest departure date. There are whispers, meanwhile, that NHL executive John Collins isn’t the frontrunner many assumed he would be to take over from Leiweke.
—The peculiar situation in which former first round pick Nikita Zadorov finds himself with the Buffalo Sabres could be resolved this week. Or maybe not. Zadorov has played one game this season, Friday against L.A., and the Sabres would like to send him back to the London Knights of the OHL.
The 6-foot-6 blueliner, however, would prefer to join Sergei Fedorov’s CSKA Moscow squad where he can play against men and make a good salary, probably around $400,000 per season. Zadorov actually has to sign a transfer agreement to go back to London even though he has a contract with the Knights, so he theoretically controls his fate. His agent, Rollie Hedges, is trying to find a way to make all parties happy, no easy task.
—The Senators (4-2-1) are off to a surprisingly fast start, but have to be the team likeliest to crash based on their numbers. They’ve allowed the second most shots against in the league with 36 per game, their possession numbers (Score adjusted Fenwick) are horrible and they can’t score. Erik Karlsson leads the team with five points to make him tied for 117th in league scoring. Those numbers suggest this start isn’t sustainable, except many said the same about Colorado last season, right?
—Centre Anze Kopitar left L.A.’s game Sunday against Columbus after a collision with Tim Erixon and it’s unclear if he will be with the club on their five-game road trip. That’s a problem on its own, but one made more difficult because the Kings are tight to the cap and the salary of defenceman Slava Yoynov still counts even though he is ineligible while his domestic abuse situation is sorted out. His wife, by the way, says she prefers charges not be pressed against Voynov.
—Chicago can’t be thrilled so far with the offensive output of Brad Richards. Richards has no goals and two points, not quite what the Hawks were imagining when they signed him off his compliance buyout from the Rangers to be their No. 2 centre.
—Sam Reinhart picked up his first NHL point, an assist, on Saturday against San Jose, but expect him to be headed back to the Kootenay Ice soon.
-Ryan Whitney was apparently offered a two-way deal to join Philadelphia, a team devastated by injuries on defence. Instead, Whitney will stick it out with the KHL squad in Sochi for a while.
—Interesting scoring race heating up in the OHL with Erie star Connor McDavid having posted 34 points in 12 games. His teammate, Dylan Strome, has 31 points, and it’s certainly possible like Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk of the Sarnia Sting, McDavid and Strome could both be top five NHL picks next summer. The Otters, by the way, are 11-0-1 so far, the only team in the CHL not to lose in regulation.
—Winnipeg’s Evander Kane is skating on his own and may be back in a week.
—The proverbial shoe is on the other foot now for San Jose giant John Scott, booted out of Sunday’s chippy game against the Ducks for leaving the bench on a legal line change with the sole intention of instigating a fight with Anaheim’s Tim Jackman.
It’s different than David Clarkson leaving the bench to fight Scott a year ago and drawing an automatic 10-game suspension. But former NHL hanging judge Brendan Shanahan used to give suspensions for what Scott did, and now we’ll see what his replacement, Stephane Quintal, does. Quintal has yet to issue as suspension this season. Scott, meanwhile, could end up being the NHL’s last pure goon before he and the rest of that lot are finally drummed out of the league for good in the (hopefully) near future.