DETROIT – Darren Helm had an ending to a season he’d like to soon forget.
His start to summer may have allowed him to do that.
On Tuesday, Helm, who was scheduled to become a restricted free agent on July 1, signed a four-year deal worth $8.5 million to stay with the Wings.
“Time heals pretty much everything,” said Helm, who earned $1 million last season. “It’s still frustrating to know what happened and we lost in the playoffs that quick. Now we can move ahead and start looking towards a new season and another four years spending it in Detroit.
“I want to stick around Detroit for as long as I can,” Helm added. “Having that security now with those four years, I’m really happy.”
In his first game back from suffering a sprained left MCL on March 17, Helm lacerated tendons in his right forearm in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarterfinals at Nashville when he was cut by Alexander Radulov’s skate.
“At the time it was pretty tough, more frustrating than anything,” said Helm, who’s 25. “The hardest thing was after getting back from that knee. Working so hard to do that, being ready and being so excited and to have it come down to such a fluky thing to end my playoffs.
“It was a good learning experience I guess you can say,” Helm continued. “Hopefully I won’t have to deal with that again, but I know there will be injuries down the road and hopefully I can deal with it better and not get as down as I did last time.”
Helm, who will likely wear Kevlar sleeves for added protection, is still on schedule to be ready for the start of training camp in Traverse City in late September.
“Part of rehab is getting a ball and kind of stick handling around,” Helm said. “I feel really good holding the stick again. Another two or three weeks I should be ready to start training with the weights like I would normally do in the summer. I’m looking forward to getting the green light and getting it going in that area.”
Helm is a valuable asset to the Wings’ bottom six forwards, anchoring the third-line center spot.
His absence was missed in the playoffs, where Detroit fell to the Predators in five games.
“He was a big loss in the playoffs,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “He just does a lot for our team. He can kill penalties. He can play against the other team’s best players. If you had to put him on the wing he could play on the wing. He’s just a real good, solid, important player for our team.
“He’s really developed into a premier third-line center in the National Hockey League,” Holland continued. “He does so much for us. He provides energy, he provides speed. He’s physical and he’s developing into a real good penalty killer. He’s a real good role model and developing into a quiet leader on the team.”
The two extra years on the deal shaves off two years of unrestricted free agency for Helm.
“I think it’s a good deal for Darren and it’s a good deal for us,” Holland said. “We’re happy to have him tied up for four years. We really feel he’s a guy that can really anchor our bottom six. We think going forward if we wanted to play him a little bit in the top six we can, but ultimately his role on our team is to be our third line center. I think we have as good a third line center as there is in the National Hockey League.”
Helm, who is entering his fourth full season with Detroit, played in just 16 regular season games for the Wings from 2007-09, but appeared in 41 postseason games during that same span and was an important part of Detroit’s 2008 Stanley Cup championship run and its return to the Stanley Cup final in 2009.
“Defensively, I always want to be strong in that area,” Helm said. “The areas I’m supposed to be good in I want to be great in. I just want to be overall better. Maybe help out more on the score sheet. There’s always ways to improve in every area so that’s what I want to do.”
In 248 games, Helm has 32 goals and 51 assists. In 65 playoff games he has 10 goals and six assists.
“He’s developing confidence with the puck,” Holland said. “I think there’s a little more offense there. He gets chances with his speed. He’s not a natural scorer, but if you go to the net and get enough chances, he can become a 12-15 goal scorer. But it’s more than goals and assists, he plays hard. I don’t think he’s going to get 60-70 points, but he doesn’t have to because he brings different elements.”
Helm, a native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, was originally a fifth-round selection (132nd overall) of the Wings in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
Holland and Helm both agree that veterans Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby helped his acclimation to the NHL.
“I look at Draper in his prime and I think Helmer could develop into a lot like what Draper was,” Holland said. “A real versatile guy that can bring speed, bring energy. When you’re 25 years of age and you’re not a star player on the team, it’s hard to be a real leader. You’re going to grow into that role. I think Darren Helm has grown into that role. I think he leads by example. He’s not going to stand up in the room. He’s a quiet kid.”
“Those guys were really huge impacts on my life and my hockey game,” Helm said. “They were with me every step coming in. They were great guys in the locker room and on the ice. They were always giving me little tips on how I had to play and be a professional on and off the ice. Those were two great guys to have as mentors as I came into the NHL.”