Darren Helm joins Avalanche with controversial penalty involving Sidney Crosby
Darren Helm’s reintegration into the Avalanche roster will be done with caution, but his increase in minutes and intensity will not be gradual. In fact, it only took two periods to get embroiled in a controversial penalty involving Sidney Crosby that left Helm and the Avs furious.
Helm’s victory lap season didn’t go as planned. Colorado’s 5-2 loss to the Penguins on Wednesday was only its sixth game and second comeback from a long-term injury. The 36-year-old signed a one-year contract with the Avalanche after winning the 2022 Stanley Cup, spent the first half of title defense recovering from a lower-body injury, returned for five games, suffered a related injury, then missed another two months.
“As far as the groin, the abdomen, it all comes together,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. After the second injury on Jan. 12 in Chicago, the organization feared Helm was done for the year — a potential unceremonious end given he could have retired with a ring last June, if he had. wanted to leave.
“Right after Chicago, I was pretty upset about it,” Helm said. “But the next day, let’s go back to it. I wanted to come back.
Once he started to rehab to see how he felt, “I immediately felt pretty sure I was going to come back,” Helm said. “But there was nothing quick about it.”
The team will be monitoring his physical progress with more scrutiny this time around to make sure he’s back for good. “Conversations with him will be daily just to see how he comes out of games, how he feels tonight after the game,” Bednar said. “Does it change in the morning? Can we manage it by taking a few days of practice? Could he miss games? Of course. We’re just going to kind of play it by ear.
If Helm is healthy, he adds a vital extra dimension to Colorado’s options in the middle of the ice. General manager Chris MacFarland walked through the trade deadline knowing that return was no guarantee, acquiring depth center Lars Eller to round out the roster.
Helm can play center or wing. Last year in the playoffs, he played center of the fourth line. This is where he met on Wednesday when he returned. If he and Eller are Colorado’s bottom six centers, that gives Alex Newhook the opportunity to play on the wing. He moved up to the second line against Pittsburgh to compensate for injuries.
“We kind of converted (Helm) to center later in the last year because we had a need,” Bednar said. “…He had played center earlier in his career, but it had been a while. And then he went to work on his faceoff for several months before we put him in that position.
Which led to Helm’s time and place on the ice against Pittsburgh. Overlapping with the Penguins’ top line, he and future Hall of Famer Crosby launched themselves behind the Avalanche net. Whistles sounded, much to Helm’s dismay. He and Crosby received matching minors for roughing – but Helm got two extra minutes for a holding penalty.
Bednar, who was shown on national broadcast TNT spitting choice words at officials, was almost as angry as he has been about any call this season. He thought the penalties should have been a washout, “or called nothing. Nothing at all. These are two strong, veteran players fighting each other. … It didn’t make sense to me. I demanded an explanation. You have a little different explanation the second time around. It still doesn’t make sense to me. I watched it over and over again.
“The first explanation I got, he couldn’t really tell me why we were short except that we were short.”
Bednar watched the replay at intermission, sat down with the officials, and asked again. He said the explanation was different the second time around, adding to the frustration. As for Helm?
“Yes, I was surprised,” he said. “I thought we were just fighting hard, and yeah, I don’t know. I thought it was just a tough hockey game.
Helm’s tough hockey games are a hopeful sign for the Avalanche, at least.