Future uncertain for three veteran Red Wings forwards

Detroit News

Detroit — All three are forwards, all have been impactful on and off the ice — and all three might have played their last games for the Detroit Red Wings.

There are many items on general manager Steve Yzerman’s to-do list this summer, many personnel decisions to be made, including determining the futures of Darren Helm, Valtteri Filppula and Frans Nielsen.

Helm and Filppula are both longtime Wings who have won Stanley Cups and been vital parts of the lineup. Nielsen has one more season left on a six-year contract signed after the sudden retirement of Pavel Datsyuk.

With the Wings continuing to get younger, and the roster undergoing changes in that regard, the futures of the three veteran forwards look foggy.

There are many other forwards within the roster puzzle, those who are younger and with more potential going into next season.

The Wings have decisions to make with veteran forwards Sam Gagner and Bobby Ryan, both unrestricted free agents, and could be making room in the lineup full time for Joe Veleno, Givani Smith, Lucas Raymond and Jonatan Berggren in October.

All of which could make Helm, Filppula and Nielsen expendable, given the waves of players and limited roster positions.

Here is where each of the three veteran forwards stand:

Darren Helm

Here’s where Helm’s future was headed right before opening night of the 2019-20 season.

“I go back a year ago, and Darren sat in my office going into Game 1 (of the regular season) and he was going to be a healthy scratch,” coach Jeff Blashill said after this season’s final game. “He took that and listened to it and probably didn’t agree with it, and he went to work.

“There was an injury and he wound up playing, and I’ve never really considered healthy-scratching him since that time.”

Over the last two seasons, you could make the argument Helm has been one of the Wings’ better all-around forwards.

Of the three Helm, 34, would appear to have the best chances of returning — but it’s hardly a slam dunk.

Helm was part of an effective checking line with Luke Glendening (another unrestricted free agent,  but expected to be re-signed) and Adam Erne that was, arguably, the Wings’ most consistently effective line.

Helm had three goals and five assists in 47 games, after being slowed by the coronavirus out of training camp. But it’s never been about Helm’s offense; rather on the defensive end of the rink that Helm always has been an important cog for the Wings.

“Nobody looks at the information we give our players more than Darren Helm,” Blashill said. “Meaning, pre-scouts, videos, all that stuff. He wants to know everything. That’s why he has had a longevity of success.”

Helm has played 744 NHL games, all with the Wings, including being a key part of the 2008 Stanley Cup. But near the trade deadline, Helm indicated he’s prepared his family that a move might be necessary, given the uncertainty of the pro hockey business.

Helm finished a 5-year, $19.25 million ($3.85 million salary cap hit) contract. If he returns to the Wings, it’ll be a shorter-term contract for a lot less.

Valtteri Filppula

Filppula’s second tour of duty with the Wings didn’t work out as expected.

Yzerman signed Filppula to a two-year contract worth $6 million ($3 million cap hit), but struggled the first season and was bumped out of the lineup in the shortened 2021 season. Filppula was a healthy scratch the entire month of March.

Filppula, 37, has played nine of his 15 NHL seasons with the Wings, including also being part of the 2008 Stanley Cup team.

“He’s been a real good player in this league and he’s been a real good Red Wing at different points, obviously,” Blashill said.

The way Filppula handled being a healthy scratch impressed Blashill.

“It’s not easy, especially when you’re somebody who has played with longevity he’s played,” Blashill said. “What he did on a daily basis is come to work and be a good example for the young players, that’s what he did. Nobody would see that, but that’s what he did. He didn’t do it for me, he did it for the team and for himself and he was an excellent example for our younger players in that stretch.”

Filppula had a goal and three assists in the final two-game series in Columbus.

“He really did play his best hockey at the end of the year,” Blashill said.

If another team isn’t interested during free agency, retirement or playing in Europe are options for Filppula.

Frans Nielsen

Nielsen, 37, was signed to a six-year contract, worth $31.5 million ($5.25 million cap hit) in 2016, ostensibly to replace Datsyuk as one of the Wings’ key two-way forwards.

But Nielsen’s effectiveness has dwindled, only playing 29 games this season with one goal and five assists, before injuries forced him out of the lineup in April.

The Wings could choose to buy out Nielsen this summer, although the savings would only be $500,000 next season, while adding a $500,000 cap hit in 2022-23.

A buyout wouldn’t be shocking, considering the potential need for a roster spot for a younger player.

But Nielsen has been an alternate captain since 2018, and his influence and stature in the locker room is impressive. In brief stretches, Nielsen was effective this season given the chance to play.

“He started the year not with the main group (in training camp), and he did a great job of showing what an unselfish teammate he is,” Blashill said. “Certainly he didn’t agree with all my decisions, and he wasn’t accepting that necessarily (being a healthy scratch), but he was a great example of how you handle yourself when you do go through those types of things.

“You go and work your butt off in practice and be ready as you can, and Franzie has done that. Every time he went into games, he seemed to do a good job.”


Twitter: @tkulfan

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