The Malik Report
by George Malik on 08/19/12 at 07:15 AM ET
If Darren Helm reads his press clippings, he’s got to feel pretty good about himself right now. With a 4-year, $8.5 million contract in his back pocket, Helm was basically described as the straw that stirs the team’s drink by Mike Babcock during NHL.com’s “30 in 30” profile of the Red Wings, and this morning, the Free Press’s Helene St. James looks at the expectations for Helm going forward while suggesting that Babcock’s assessment of Helm is spot-on:
The Wings recognized Helm’s importance this summer with a four-year deal that doubled his salary. He’s the key to making the whole bottom six group work, as his presence at center on the third line enables correct slotting for the rest. When he got hurt in Game 1, it was debilitating to the whole forward lineup. He’s also a key to the penalty kill.
Teammates rib him for being so fast on his feet his hands can’t keep up, and for his near-fanatical commitment to fitness.
His numbers were down last season because he was limited to 68 games, but statistically, he was on the same pace as in 2010-11, when he had 12 goals and 20 assists in 82 games.
Helm underwent surgery the night of the injury and is expected to have fully recovered from the nerve damage by camp. He’s emerged as one of the best third-line centers in the NHL, and in his realm, is as important to the Wings’ success as guys like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
Again, here’s what Babcock told NHL.com’s Dan Rosen about Helm:
“The interesting stat is what was our record last year with Helm in the lineup and what was our record without him?” Babcock said. “You’re going to be shocked. That right there writes your whole article.”
Detroit was 42-22-4 with Helm in the lineup last season; 6-6-2 without him. Babcock said he felt Detroit was in a good position when the playoffs began because Helm was back in the lineup after missing the final 10 games of the regular season, but he suffered a deep cut on his right forearm early in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals and had to undergo surgery. He never returned and the Red Wings lost to the Nashville Predators in five games.
“We were the No. 1 team in the NHL after 60-plus games last season and we traded our first-round pick because it was then the No. 30 pick,” Babcock said. “Helm got hurt and now we would have had the 19th pick.”
With Helm healthy and in the lineup, the Red Wings feel they have enough forward depth to compete with any team in the NHL. He’s not as gifted as Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg, but Babcock said he thinks Helm is the best third-line center in the NHL because he gives the Red Wings depth, speed and faceoff wins—three elements that make for a dangerous opponent.
Babcock went so far as to include Helm in a grouping with Datsyuk and Zetterberg as the forwards who make the Red Wings’ offense go.
“This guy is just one of those Energizer bunnies. He keeps on trucking,” Babcock said. “[Helm] walks in and immediately charges up the room. That’s how important he is to our team. You know, sometimes as a coach when you lose a guy the appreciation for that guy goes up.”
As I didn’t save Steve Simmons’ bizarre Winter Classic boycott suggestion or Danny Cleary’s take on the collateral damage involved should the NHL choose to lock its players out (according to the Carbonnear Compass’s Terry Roberts, Cleary helped kick off the Newfoundland Youth Summer Games in Harbour Grace on Saturday), the balance of this morning’s entry is…Spotty.
• Via RedWingsFeed, something tells me that the Free Press’s Evil Drew Sharp won’t be suggesting that the fact that Detroit’s sports teams “won’t settle for mediocrity” when it comes to coaching will correlate to results when he’s talking about the Red Wings’ likely performance this upcoming season, but for this morning, anyway, the Red Wings’ “bench” qualifies as elite in Sharp’s eyes:
Detroit has too comfortably accepted prior mediocrity. Perhaps it resulted from an ingrained inferiority complex, the belief that all the city could reasonably hope for was competitive relevance and some token recognition.
But there’s a refreshing new attitude among the teams, one that demands excellence. That new attitude starts with the deepest collection of quality head coaching and managing that this city has enjoyed in my lifetime.
Jim Schwartz became that rare Lions coach—receiving a contract extension that all universally agreed was warranted. Jim Leyland attracts scrutiny like there are magnets in the filters of those Marlboros dangling from his lips, but he’s undeniably the best manager the Tigers have had here since Sparky Anderson.
Mike Babcock just might be the best there is right now in the NHL. Tom Izzo has graduated from championship coach to state-born icon. Mark Dantonio has finally stiffened Michigan State’s football chin. Brady Hoke has toughened Michigan’s football middle. John Beilein has made the NCAA tournament a minimal standard for Michigan basketball.
• More along the lines of the Hockey news’s suggestion that the Red Wings will finish seventh in the Western Conference, the Tennessean’s Josh Cooper is picking Central Division favorites, and he believes that his Predators will be fine, but may be eclipsed by the Chicago Blackhawks for the Central title, and the Wings? Well, the truth ain’t pretty, and the fact that you and I have learned that the Predators’ press doesn’t exactly like Detroit (cue Cooper and his ilk saying, “Ryan Suter signing with Detroit? Eew, icky icky Detroit, old and busted!”) doesn’t help his assessment:
Detroit Red Wings
• Last season: Lost to Predators in Western Conference quarterfinals.
• Losses: D Nicklas Lidstrom, D Brad Stuart, F Jiri Hudler.
• Additions: G Jonas Gustavsson, F Jordin Tootoo, F Damien Brunner.
• Better or worse: Worse.
• Analysis: The Red Wings whiffed on Suter or Zach Parise, and they have yet to address some holes in their lineup.
Former defenseman and captain Lidstrom retired, leaving a major void. He is considered by many to be the best defenseman of this generation. He’s also one of the top all-time Red Wings. Though he was slowing down at age 42, he was still effective, and his leadership is irreplaceable.
The top two defensemen are likely Niklas Kronwall and Ian White, who have been more second-pairing blueliners. Detroit will likely add a defenseman before the offseason ends.
The forwards are still good, though they are aging. Pavel Datsyuk turned 34 in July and had knee surgery near the end of last season. Henrik Zetterberg turns 32 before the start of the season. The youngest core forward is Darren Helm, 25, and he is coming off a forearm laceration suffered in the playoffs against the Predators.
Jimmy Howard is one of the NHL’s top goaltenders, but the Red Wings will likely need to count on him more to steal some games.
Unless general manager Ken Holland can acquire a couple of higher-tier defensemen, the Red Wings could see a decline.
Which is why my “verdict” on the Wings’ off-season is “out” until Holland makes his free agent band-aid signing, and, quite honestly, until the team decides whether to wait until later in the season to add a more meaningful addition via trade, or whether they utilize a little CBA pressure to increase their leverage at or around the beginning of the regular season…
• If you missed the Wings’ Facebook post about a commercial taking place at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday, here’s their Twitter note:
The commercial on Tuesday, 3PM is at The Joe for— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) August 18, 2012
@puremichigan. Come show everyone how great Hockeytown is- Wear your DRW sweater!
• And it’s just pre-season stuff, so if you want to follow the European Trophy tournament more closely, they have a website with English-language scores, news and the occasional photo gallery, but on Saturday, Calle Jarnkrok was held off the scoresheet as Brynas IF lost 4-3 to SC Bern, Fabian Brunnstrom registered an assist in the Frolunda Indians’ 2-0 victory over the Zurich ZSC Lions, and Teemu Pulkkinen was held off the scoresheet during Jokerit Helsinki’s 2-1 loss to Adler Mannheim.
Usually we’d be talking about hearing stories regarding the Red Wings slowly filtering back into town from Europe and their summer homes across the U.S. and Canada to take part in informal practices held at Joe Louis Arena by the end of this upcoming week or the last week of August at the latest, but with a lockout in the offing, who knows what will happen there.
I am going to be curious to find out whether the Wings’ players choose to skate at the Joe if there’s a lockout in the offing—as they won’t be “locked out” until September 15th, and it’s not as if the Wings hold a grudge against their own players—and whether the players will continue to skate somewhere else and work out say, at Kris Draper’s Core Sports Fitness gym in Troy if there is a lockout, so I’ll do my best to keep you apprised of the situation…
And again, I’d like to hear what you’ve got to say regarding any possible fundraising drives to send me to Traverse City for the main camp and/or to some Griffins and Walleye games, if not to Toronto and New York to make some noise and perhaps be part of a flash mob or two, during a lockout.
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The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.