RALEIGH — The Scott Darling era is over.
Two years after acquiring the goaltender from the Chicago Blackhawks and signing him to a four-year, $16.6 million contract, the Carolina Hurricanes cut bait with their failed No. 1 goalie, trading him to and a 2020 sixth-round pick to Florida in exchange for goaltender James Reimer.
Reimer’s cap hit each of the next two seasons is $3.4 million, a $750,000 savings over Darling’s $4.15 million cap hit.
Reimer was the heir apparent to Roberto Luongo when he signed a five-year deal with the Panthers in 2016, but he was traded away just days after Luongo announced his retirement as Florida sets its sights at signing Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky when free agency opens Monday.
Darling, who will be bought out by the Panthers, never established himself as a No. 1 goaltender in Carolina after the team traded a third-round pick to Chicago for his negotiating rights and then signed him to the four-year contract. He was 15-25-9 in two seasons with the Hurricanes, carrying a bloated 3.20 goals-against average and dismal .887 save percentage.
He was injured in the team’s final preseason game last year, leading to Carolina claiming Curtis McElhinney off waivers from the Maple Leafs. McElhinney, along with newcomer Petr Mrazek, performed well, and when Darling returned and struggled the team placed him on waivers and sent him to Charlotte of the AHL.
With Darling gone and both McElhinney and Mrazek unrestricted free agents, the Hurricanes are still in search of a No. 1 goalie. Carolina continues to negotiate with Mrazek, while McElhinney is expected to sign elsewhere. Alex Nedeljkovic, who was the AHL goaltender of the year last season and helped the Checkers win their first Calder Cup, is an option to start as the team’s backup. Both Reimer and Anton Forsberg — who was acquired when Calvin de Haan was traded to Chicago last week — could also factor in to battle for an NHL spot in Raleigh.
Reimer, 31, was 13-12-5 with a 3.09 goals-against average and .900 save percentage in arguably one of the toughest seasons of his career. In his nine-season NHL career, he has a 144-120-39 record with a 2.81 goals-against average and .914 save percentage with Toronto, San Jose and Florida.
The Hurricanes would still like to add to the goaltending mix, with Mrazek and former Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov considered the prime candidates. Islanders goalie Robin Lehner, an unrestricted free agent like the two aforementioned goalies, might be a long-shot consideration as well.