Detroit — There’s a lot of mutual admiration between Darren Helm and the Red Wings organization.
But professional hockey is a business, and more often than not, loyalty and good feelings are tossed aside.
An unrestricted free agent on July 1, Helm realizes his days with the organization that drafted him in the fifth round in 2005 could be ending.
“I love it here, I love the city, I love the fans, the people,” said Helm, 29, who made his NHL debut with the Red Wings in 2007. “We’ve made a lot of really good friends that would definitely be really hard to move away from.”
Two issues make Helm returning to the Red Wings a tricky proposition: Money, first and foremost, and the role of the player within the team structure.
And they’re two issues that have made it increasingly difficult for any player to stick around for an entire career with the same organization in the NHL’s salary cap era.
Helm had a salary cap hit of $2.125 million this past season, a number that possibly double if he hit in the open market on July 1. That could prove troublesome for the Red Wings, who may not want to go that high.
Based on the fact Helm remains of the fastest players in the NHL, is one of the better penalty killers, can play on a scoring line while doing the dirty work for the more offensive players, or a checking role on the bottom two lines, play either center or wing – few established players are as versatile around the NHL.
Former coach Mike Babcock called Helm — who scored 13 goals this season and had a career-high 15 a season ago — one of the best third-line centers just two seasons ago.
General manager Ken Holland would like to see Helm return but acknowledges it’s going to take both sides meeting in the middle.
“I understand this is an important contract for him,” Holland said. “We’re going to sit down. I’ve got an interest in Helmer coming back, but obviously it takes two to tango.
“Helmer and his agent will have to decide what their priorities are and now we wait.”
Going forward, maybe a more defined role is what Helm will be looking for.
When the Red Wings cleaned out their lockers for the season Monday, after having been eliminated in the Eastern Conference playoffs by Tampa Bay,
Helm sounded as if the constant shuffling by coach Jeff Blashill affected him.
“There were situations I wasn’t happy when I was playing and I wasn’t too happy when those situations arose,” said Helm, who wouldn’t specify what those situations were. “I want to see why that happened as often as it did and make sure I find a place that it won’t happen again.”
Helm indicated he will talk with both Holland and Blashill regarding what they feel Helm’s role will be in a lineup breaking in younger players.
The start to this season got off badly for Helm, when he suffered a concussion and shoulder injury in a collision with a prospect in the opening 15 minutes of training camp.
That injury squashed the contract extension talks Holland was willing to begin, but put off, said Helm.
“It sounded like Kenny wanted to get things done here pretty quick,” said Helm, who was disappointed the contract talk
s were pushed back to after the season. “I got that injury and nothing really formed after that. I didn’t have the best year statistically or mentally, not as far as playing but just how the way things were going on and at the rink and ice.
“I was hoping to have at least some conversations about an extension.
“We’ll see what happens.”
Helm is a unique case for Holland in several ways.
Both are alumni of the Medicine Hat (Alberta) junior hockey program in the Western Hockey League (WHL). Also, Helm’s fiancée Devon was a neighbor of the Holland family.
“His fiancée used to be in our backyard playing with my kids,” Holland said. “I’ve known Devon since she was two-three years old. I know Helmer and Devon really, really good.
“I like Helmer. I’ve had two coaches that both like Helmer. They play him lots of minutes.”
Whether the personal connections and loyalty to the organization is enough, remains to be seen in the two months ahead.
“Lots of decisions to make,” Helm said. “We’ll see how everything goes.”