We're still a long ways away from the beginning of NHL Free Agency, but there's no time like the present to take a look at the names out there. Obviously a lot can change between now and July 1 since teams are going to worry about their own players before other potential free agents, so we're first going to hash out the benefits and drawbacks to re-signing the pending UFAs and RFAs currently on Detroit's roster.
#43 / Center / Detroit Red Wings
Jan 21, 1987
Helm has been with the Red Wings organization since he was drafted in 2005. He made his debut in the 2007-08 season, and played a supporting role in the Wings' Stanley Cup win that year. Since then he has amassed experience in eight seasons with the Wings (not counting the shortened 2013 season where he played in one game due to a debilitating back injury). He gained a reputation as injury-prone for a little while, but seems to have overcome that as he has played in all but 12 games in the last two regular seasons.
Once called the "best third-line center in the league" by former Wings bench boss Mike Babcock, Helm has been given increased roles in the lineup, including time as a top six forward and often on the wing of Pavel Datsyuk. This was a source of frustration for a lot of fans in the last few years who believed that lineup spot could be better utilized by other personnel.
Helm also experienced frustration this season when he couldn't find a stable spot in the lineup. He was one of several Wings to express confusion and displeasure in his end-of-season comments, which generally hinted at a lack of communication between coaches and players on their roles. Helm has also said that he is looking for a team where this uncertainty will not be a factor, and whether or not that's Detroit remains to be seen.
After hitting a career-high in goals and points in 2014-15 (15-18--33), Helm saw a decrease in production in 2015-16. The 7-point drop in his overall production neatly coincides with the drop in points on the power play, from 7 last year to 0 this season. Aside from the drop off by an overall bad power play, Helm saw his minutes on the man advantage nearly sawed in half, down from 109 to just 56 on the season. In addition, he saw an increase in PK time but no significant change at 5-on-5, leading to a total of 27 fewer total minutes despite playing in two more games.
Helm is coming off a 4-year contract with a cap hit of $2.125M per season. He will likely be looking for a pay increase, and with a young family he'll probably be hoping for something long-term, neither of which are conditions the Red Wings can promise at this juncture. With other expensive and lengthy contracts to deal with, as well as concerns as to how much money is being put into players that need reduced roles (think Zetterberg, Kronwall, Ericsson, etc.), I can't see Detroit being in a position to give Helm the contract he's looking for.
Finally, it seems as though Helm's role as the speedy, penalty-killing bottom-six forward can be filled by Andreas Athanasiou, for less money and with the promise of higher offensive production. And since many fans would like to see the role of Athanasiou increased to at least middle-six instead of a fourth liner, players bumped out of the top lines in favor of AA and other youth may also squeeze out room for guys like Helm to return to the team.
It's also possible the Wings could make enough moves where it could benefit them to retain Helm as a mentor for the new blood and a veteran presence in the face of future retirements. Unfortunately, that relies too much on things that can't be guaranteed.
Now we ask you, readers of WIIM: would you bring back Darren Helm for the right price?