Though meaningful NHL hockey is still being played in some places (albeit badly in Pittsburgh), and some of the Detroit Red Wings’ younger players are helping the drive for a Calder Cup in Grand Rapids, the truth is that it’s the offseason in Hockeytown. It’s the perfect time for analyzing what went right and wrong for each player on the roster, using that knowledge to try to peek into the near future of the 2013-14 season.
We’re starting with the players who made the least appearances in a Red Wings sweater in 2013 and working our way up to the stalwarts who Mike Babcock called on every game, and that means starting with a fan favorite who suited up just once this season (Friday, January 25, to be exact).
Looking Back at Darren Helm‘s 2013:
The name of a popular Red Wings blog was especially appropriate for Helmer as this season was indeed nightmarish for the 26-year old center. After wrist surgery prevented him from making the lineup on a lockout-delayed opening day, he did make an appearance in Game 4 of the regular season… only to promptly injure his back and miss the rest of the year. Helm’s stats for 2013: 12:27 of ice time, one minor penalty and one shot on goal.
His absence was clearly felt on the penalty killing unit, where Helm’s combination of speed and grit were missed. When both were healthy, Drew Miller and Patrick Eaves did a nice job filling in, and the Wings finished in the top half of the NHL. Still, it’s reasonable to think it could have been a top 5 unit with Helm in the mix.
Babcock eventually worked around the lack of Helm to play third-line center by assembling the “Kid Line,” but it took a while for him to come to that solution. Joakim Andersson brought a different dimension to that spot (read: size), yet it would have been fun seeing Helm zipping up the ice for two-on-ones with Gustav Nyquist.
Looking Ahead to 2013-14:
Helm is in an interesting spot, to be sure. Had he played last year and showed further development to his offensive game, we might be talking about him as a possible second-line center who would be making Valtteri Filppula expendable. That’s not the case now, and the top priority has to be just making sure he’s healthy enough to be a contributor again.
Assuming that he is, Helm should resume his key PK role, where he’s also a threat to score a couple of shorthanded goals every season. The Kid Line isn’t likely to remain together going forward – both Nyquist and Damien Brunner could be among the top six forwards – so there likely will be a spot for him on the third line again too. Expect 10-12 goals with the upside for a few more depending on who his regular linemates are.
Helm’s contract calls for him to get $2.125 million a season through 2015-16, which is good value as long as his back allows him to bring what he can to the table. Plenty of Red Wings fans would crack a smile just seeing No. 43 out there on the ice again.