After getting walloped 6-2 by the Boston Bruins Sunday afternoon, it seemed something was bound to happen in Chicago. Well, something happened, just likely not what many would have expected.
Sunday evening the Blackhawks announced they had demoted netminder Antti Raanta and winger Ryan Hartman and called up goaltender Scott Darling and winger Joakim Nordstrom. Then, shortly after announcing they had brought Darling back to the big club, news came that Chicago had come to terms on a two-year contract extension with him.
While terms of the deal have not been released, the extension for Darling puts Raanta’s future with the Blackhawks on serious watch. Raanta, still considered a rookie by the NHL, is in the first year of two-year deal which will see him become an unrestricted free agent in 2016-17. Darling’s deal will run through to the end of 2016-17.
The Blackhawks are in the midst of a woeful homestand in which they’ve gone 2-2-3 and dropped their last three by a combined score of 13-5. The demotion of Raanta and subsequent extension of Darling is made even more puzzling considering Raanta suited up for only one of Chicago’s last seven games, allowing two goals on 29 shots in nearly 65 minutes of work as the Blackhawks fell 3-2 in a shootout to Arizona.
Raanta has appeared in 14 games this season for Chicago, posting a 1.89 goals-against average and .936 save percentage. He has posted a 7-4-1 record and two shutouts. Darling, who overtook Raanta for starting duties during Corey Crawford’s early-season injury, has appeared in seven games for the Blackhawks going 5-2-0 with a 1.97 GAA and .937 SP.
That Darling, whose seven games with the Blackhawks this season was his first taste of NHL action, was able to nab the starting role from Raanta may have been writing on the wall. Raanta didn’t play a single game from Oct. 26 to Dec. 2, including being scratched for Chicago’s Oct. 30 game against Ottawa. What could be equally as troubling for Raanta’s future in Chicago is if Darling landed a one-way deal in either year of his extension.
Raanta made his NHL debut last season after signing a one-year deal with the Blackhawks in June 2013 and re-signed with the team in June 2014. Neither Raanta’s first deal nor his second were one-way contracts, meaning he could be freely sent between the AHL and NHL. In addition, the cash-strapped Blackhawks save roughly $180,000 in cap space by having Darling in the NHL this season.
This isn’t the big move that Blackhawks fans have been clamouring for, but it’s a move nevertheless. And in a cap world where teams often need to make minor moves to set themselves up for something bigger, this could be foreshadowing for a busy trade deadline in the Windy City.