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#1: The Length of the Contract:
Darren Helm is currently 25. He is right at the beginning of what a lot of people probably consider to be the peak years for a hockey player. Skill wise, you're about as fast and quick as you're going to be, your shots are about as good as they're going to be, and you've finally gotten the hang of the level of competition, speed, intensity and physicality of the NHL. We can't expect everyone to be winning Norris Trophies at age 40 or still being offensive threats the way Jaomir Jagr and Teemu Selanne have been in their twilight seasons.
A four year contract brings us to Darren Helm, age 29/30. He's probably peaked on the bell curve and is going to start to decline. That doesn't mean at age 30 he's going to turn into a completely useless player. But around that time, he's going to start to get a little slower, a little less quick, a little less able to be the physical force he is now at age 25. However, over the next four years he has the opportunity to continue to grow as a hockey player and become more than just a really fast penalty killer.
"But Mike!", I hear the complaints from naysayers, "All Darren Helm has is speed! He can't even finish his goal scoring opportunities and when his speed goes he'll just be useless!"
I'll address this point more completely, but in short I'll respond by saying that he has time to develop more of a scoring touch. I've maintained he should spend a summer living and training with Datsyuk and then maybe he'll get more scoring skills. More to the topic of the length of contract, after four years the Red Wings can take a look at this 30 year old center and figure out whether or not he's still a good fit for the team.
#2: The Price Tag:
8.5 million for four years. People on Twitter did the math and shared that it comes to an annual cap hit of 2.125 million. Look at other third line centers. Yes, there are some that are bargains. But there are many of them who were producing around what Helm does. Being bumped up to just over 2 million puts him around the higher end of the pack, sure, but it's not an astronomical for a 3rd line center.
It also doesn't hurt the Red Wings' overall salary cap for the other signings we still have to make and the shopping we want to do. As Detroit Free Press' Helene St. James Tweeted, we have to sign Abdelkader and Quincey. Expect around $20 million left in cap space. That's plenty of cash to shop for Parise, Suter, Semin and Jagr. Not to mention Holmstrom if he decides to come back.
#3: What Darren Helm Means to the Team:
Going back to the point about he doesn't finish his goal scoring opportunities...
Well a couple things I'll say to that. For starters, he's a third line center! Check this out, it shows where Darren Helm ranked in among other third line centers midway through last season. Average goals: 5.2 Average assists: 7.1 Average points: 12.3. For all intents and purposes, he had hit the league average - he was a touch under, but minimally so. Third line players aren't there to put up huge offensive numbers. They're there to grind down the other team, kill penalties and be a physical force for your team. Yes, you need depth down into your 3rd and 4th lines and getting points from those guys can be huge contributions, especially come playoff time.
Kris Draper only broke 20 goals 1 season of his career. Why are people expecting Darren Helm to be any more than that?
What Darren Helm is here for to win face offs, bring speed and grit to the 3rd line and to the penalty kill, and he does all of those things exceptionally well. Don't believe me, check this out. This is 2 years ago in the playoffs. May I present: DARREN HELM - ONE MAN PENALTY KILL
If that's what we can expect from the man I affectionately call Dirty Darren Helm, I'd say that's worth $2,000,000 a year. Because this is a guy who, as I have argued previously, may be wearing the A on his jersey in upcoming seasons.
#4: The Concern:
Yes, there are some concerns. As I wrote in the comments over at The Production Line, Helm was bit by the injury bug. He suffered a knee injury, and those can be nagging and continue to hurt a player, especially a guy like Helm who's major strength is his speed and quickness. We've seen what freak wrist injuries can do (see Mike Modano and Pavel Datsyuk), especially for Helm who I'm looking forward to being a big face off guy for the Red Wings.
If Darren Helm continues to suffer from these injuries and/or other injuries as a result of his rough and tumble play style, his performance could suffer as a result and lessen his value to the team.
Summary after the break
The reason this contract is perfect is because it balances out the risks and rewards, the known and the unknown, the accomplished and the potentials. Darren Helm is a valuable asset for the 3rd line of the Red Wings. We may never know just how fast he ranks in comparison to other players in the NHL because he doesn't get to go to the All-Star Game, but he's insanely fast and quick. He hits hard, he works in the corners and behind the net. He's a great penalty-killer and good on the face offs.
He has had injuries and those are a concern, and his offensive production maybe isn't where it could be and perhaps should be. A guy as fast as he is, who gets some of the opportunities he does should perhaps capitalize on them more.
Four years, 2.125 million a year is exactly the kind of contract Darren Helm deserves. As I mentioned in my previous post, Helm still has potential to be a bigger impact player for the Red Wings. A contract like this one can be one of those motivating factors. If he lives up to those standards being said and surpasses them, then around age 30, he can be looking at a 5-7 year contract and maybe a bit more money. He could be wearing the A on his jersey, he could be the kind of locker room presence that Kris Draper was, and be an irreplaceable cog in the Red Wings' machine.
Or maybe he bombs and at least we're not locked into anything ridiculously long term. Either way, this contract is perfect.