Recently signed Avalanche forward Darren Helm is hoping his NHL career comes full circle.
Helm embarked on his rookie campaign 14 years ago with the Detroit Red Wings — once a bitter rival of the Avs — and went on to hoist the Stanley Cup. He was just 21.
Helm played just seven regular-season games that year. But he appeared in 18 playoff games, including the four where Detroit swept the Avalanche in the second round. Helm was held without a point but played a season-high 13:16 in the series-clinching Game 4 at what was then called the Pepsi Center. It was the last playoff game of Avs general manager and former captain Joe Sakic’s playoff career.
Now 35, Helm is hoping to get another shot at the Cup. And in signing a one-year, $1 million deal offered by Sakic last week, the opportunity for him has never been greater.
“That’s something I’m very excited for,” Helm said of joining a Cup contending team. “The first year I had, it was a great experience. I loved every part of it. I think we missed another opportunity in ’09 and then it’s been a cold drought for the last 13 years.”
Helm and the Red Wings were one goal away from a repeat in 2009, falling in the Stanley Cup Final to the same Pittsburgh Penguins team they defeated in his rookie season. Since then, Helm has not made it out of the second round. And neither have the Avs.
But an opportunity to make a run with the team Helm once defeated to win the Cup was too good to pass up. Even if it meant leaving the only place he’s known to be home since his debut.
“There’s a little bit of mixed emotions,” Helm said of leaving Detroit. “I’ve been here for a long time, I’ve raised a family here. I’m sure this will be home for my family when I’m done. But I’m just really looking forward to playing with the Avs and being on a contending team.”
“The team that they’ve been building for the last couple of years, I just wanted to be part of it.”
Helm has played 744 games, scoring 112 goals and recording 251 points. He was a vital piece of the Red Wings’ penalty kill for over a decade and is hoping to bring that part of his game to the Avs.
“I can use my speed to my advantage. Get some pressure up ice. I’m willing to block some shots,” Helm said. “I just want to be a piece of the puzzle and continue to do what I’ve been doing. These guys are great players and good professionals, I just want to be part of it.”
Helm will likely slot on the Avs’ fourth line, potentially alongside Logan O’Connor and fellow newcomer Mikhail Maltsev. Neither of them have ever played together. In fact, Helm is entering a locker room with entirely new faces.
“I don’t know a single guy but I’m also looking forward to getting to know everyone,” he said. “It’s a fresh start for me so that part has been exciting.”
Once a storied rivalry, the Avs and Wings saga ended with that 2008 series. It was the sixth and final time the teams met in the playoffs, each winning three. The Red Wings have since moved to the Eastern Conference and have fallen entirely out of favor as a playoff team.
Helm joined Detroit at the conclusion of what many consider to be the most intense rivalry in NHL history. Joining the Avalanche was never a taboo for him like it may have been for older Red Wings alumni.
“I didn’t know a whole lot about it coming in,” Helm said. “I definitely heard a lot about it being in Detroit and kind of reliving that with the media and whatever. I don’t think it’s been a rivalry since I’ve been here so signing in Colorado wasn’t an issue.”
Aarif Deen is our Colorado Avalanche beat reporter. He covers Avs games live from Ball Arena and attends practices, media availabilities and other events pertaining to the Avs on the daily beat. He is also a co-host of Hockey Mountain High: Your go-to Avalanche podcast. Deen joined Mile High Sports upon completion of his bachelor’s degree in journalism and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan – Dearborn. Before Mile High Sports, Deen worked for the Michigan Wolverines Athletics Department as the assistant sports information director.
Follow him on Twitter @runwriteAarif