Brian MacLellan has said the Caps intend to upgrade their third line this offseason. This is part of our series looking at free agents who the Caps may target.
Having spent the entirety of his career in Detroit, Darren Helm might be looking for a change of scenery. The speedy skater is coming off a four-year deal with a cap hit of $2.125 million. He’ll likely be offered a raise from several teams–and the Caps should be among them.
Courtesy of Own the Puck
At 5’11”, Helm stands below the league average, but he’s known primarily for speed not size. In his time in Detroit, Helm bounced from role to role. We could credit this to his versatility or a marker of his failure to develop into the player he was once projected to be– due to either Helm’s inconsistency or a failure on the part of Detroit’s coaching staff to utilize a young, developing player.
But Helm is now 29, and he’s been typecast as a speedster who can put up a handful of points over the course of a season. He also has a history of injury, ranging from a sprained knee to concussions. At this point in his career, Helm’s style of play isn’t likely to change. Helm has never posted more than 33 points in a single NHL season. He won’t transform into a sniper or playmaker, even with optimal usage and quality linemates. Last season, he scored 13 goals and recorded 13 assists.
Clearly, Helm isn’t much of a goal scorer, but his shot generation remains impressive. Most criticisms pertain to his lack of scoring, but the Caps wouldn’t sign Helm under the pretense that he’d blossom into a fixture in their top six.
Realistically, Helm’s production merits a middle-six role, and his speed would be best suited for the Caps’ cumbersome third line. Should injuries arise, Barry Trotz might be willing to slot Helm in the top six; Helm has also played as a left wing.
Additionally, he helped solidify the Red Wings’ penalty kill. Helm clocked an average of 1:48 as a penalty killer. On the flip side, his power-play production was lukewarm at best.
Former Red Wings coach Mike Babcock thought highly of Helm, once dubbing him the best third-line center in the league. That’s an overstatement, but Helm could be a good fit for the Caps. He is young (sort of) and brings speed and a reasonable degree of offensive ability. He’s not a possession star, but his numbers are respectable.
The big issue is salary. Helm has been offered a raise by the Red Wings, and I expect other teams will follow suit. I wouldn’t be shocked if Helm received an offer upward of $4 million, but to pay that would be a mistake for the Caps. Given their crop of RFAs, Helm might be offered around $3.5 million. Whether he’d sacrifice salary for a shot at his second Stanley Cup remains to be seen.
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