Red Wings Blue Jackets Hockey Helm

Detroit Red Wings forward Darren Helm is seen during an NHL game against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Columbus, Ohio, May 8, 2021. The Blue Jackets won 5-4 in overtime. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

Darren Helm will be one of the new guys in an NHL locker room. That hasn’t happened in a while.

Helm signed as a free agent with the Colorado Avalanche, an established group looking for role players, not stars. If all goes according to plan, the 34-year-old will experience the postseason again in the late stages of his career.

“This is a great team,” Helm said. “I just want to be a piece of the puzzle.”

Helm spent the first 14 years of his career with the Detroit Red Wings. The start was dreamy, with Detroit winning the Stanley Cup his first professional season in 2007-08. He appeared in just seven regular-season games but scored twice in 18 playoff games.

The Red Wings made another long run the next season, losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals. The core, dotted with names like Lidstrom, Chelios, Datsyuk and Zetterberg, started moving on. Following three straight first-round exits, Helm, 34, hasn’t seen the postseason since 2015-16. Detroit has been fifth or worse in its division since then.

His scoring has slowed — he had eight points in 47 games last season — but he’s been durable. One-time teammate Kris Draper reportedly compared the speedy Helm to Usain Bolt early in his career. These days, the Avalanche could use his penalty killing.

“Darren is a high-energy, competitive player who brings veteran leadership to our team,” general manager Joe Sakic said in a release. “He helps our depth up front, is good on faceoffs and is an effective penalty killer."

Helm said recently he wanted another year or two in the NHL. He finished out the 2020-21 season with the Red Wings and became a free agent. The Avalanche, who lost penalty killers Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (unrestricted free agent) and Matt Calvert (retirement) during the offseason, were interested.

Helm’s one-year, $1 million contract was announced Thursday. He said he’s willing to “play whatever system we have to play.”

“Just want to get my foot in the door,” he said.

What was once a bitter rivalry between his old team and his new team has fizzled out with both teams going through rebuilds. A team looking toward the future let him walk in free agency. The team he just signed with has its sights on the Cup.

“I don’t know a single guy,” Helm said.

“I’m excited, not knowing anyone — it's a fresh start for me.”

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