Takin a T/O With BT—Depth and Determination In Detroit's Helm and Cleary

xx yySenior Writer IMay 19, 2009

DETROIT - JUNE 02: Darren Helm #43 of the Detroit Red Wings hits Rob Scuderi #4 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during game five of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Joe Louis Arena on June 2, 2008 in Detroit, Michigan. The Penguins defeated the Red Wings 4-3 in triple overtime to set the series at 3-2 Red Wings. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

When you think NHL playoffs, some key words come to mind.

The first one many think of is goaltending, because so often in the playoffs we're brought face-to-face with a surprise between the pipes. The second one many think of is game sevens.

A few people have spoken to the magic of those sixty minutes (or more) of sudden death, and they truly are fantastic—an enthralling, eye-catching experience.

But there's one word that's synonymous with playoffs that comes into play about mid-way through February, around the same time as we begin to really look at the potential layout of the second season.


Every year at the trade deadline, non-playoff teams overcharge for good, hard-working players, and every year a playoff team is willing to accept that charge.

Why? Because when the games matter, you can never have too many footsoldiers—you can never have too many players more than willing to lay it on the line for the good of the team.

Usually the cost is a young "project" player. Guys who may take a little longer to groom for the NHL game, but could also plug the spot left by the outgoing.

Sometimes, draft picks are used to add depth via trades.

The Detroit Red Wings used draft picks to address their playoff depth, but they did it in the standard way: By actually drafting the player they wanted.

In 2005, Darren Helm was taken in the fifth round by the Detroit Red Wings. Helm had just finished his rookie season in Medicine Hat, registering just 24 points. For a rookie season it was fairly impressive for the Manitoba Jr. B product, but there was room for improvement, and Detroit saw that—alongside his blazing speed.

Never one to waste a late round pick, Helm played two more years in the WHL, appearing in 129 games, scoring 66 goals, and putting up 143 points before going to the Wings' AHL affiliate Grand Rapids.

After a season in Grand Rapids with 31 points in 67 games, Helm got his late-season cup of coffee with the Red Wings.

From that seven game tryout though, Helm stuck with the Wings throughout their Stanley Cup playoff run and eventual championship.

Since his first playoff game on April 18th against Nashville of last year, Helm has been the prototypical playoff player: He's played effective, yet annoying hockey (in the eyes of his opponents), and he's taken as much (a career-playoff high of 16:19 in game two against Anaheim this season) or as little (just 2:35 in game six of last year's cup final) ice time as his team needs him to.

His speed has proven to create headaches for the opposition, and his ability to throw his weight around (all 5'11, 172 lbs. of it) while being a dynamic, feisty offensive player makes him the ideal playoff forward.

Along with that, he's almost unscoutable if you have to look at the Wings' as a potential opponent because of such a small sample size (Opposing teams only have 23 regular season games to follow, as Helm's main contributions have come from his 30 playoff games).

In every game these playoffs, Helm has made two or three plays that have made those following take notice of him: whether it's winning a faceoff, scoring a goal, or being an all-out pest.

But there's something else that makes Helm effective.

His teammate Dan Cleary.

Unlike Helm, Detroit didn't have to use a draft pick on Cleary. In fact, they didn't have to use anything other than cap space and a roster spot to net the former-first rounder.

Once the lockout ended, Cleary had finished his time in Phoenix and was awaiting a new deal.

One never came during the offseason, but Cleary was invited to training camp by the Red Wings. After seeing what they wanted out of the gritty forward, the Wings inked Cleary.

While Cleary has been a solid, not spectacular, addition to the Wings (in his four years in Detroit Cleary has topped twenty goals twice and had his first three 40-point campaigns), he is a player—much like Helm—who makes himself noticeable when it matters.

Whether he's seen digging around in the corners for loose pucks in hopes of creating a chance, playing through pain and injuries to help his team win games, or potting pucks when it matters, Cleary has done anything, and everything, well for the Wings.

This playoff season, Cleary has been unstoppable. He's out-produced both Pavel Datsyuk and Marian Hossa points-wise, he's third on the team in goals, and first in game winners with two—the first two of his playoff career.

Aside from the offensive boost, both he and Helm have offered Detroit fans a different look and a different attitude, taking them back to the McCarty-Draper-Maltby 'Grind-line' days: Watching players who know what playoff hockey is about, and seem to reach another level when it's all on the line.

While the Yzermans and Lidstroms are remembered for how they lead, both by example and through personality, the men in the trenches are embodied just as boldly in Detroit lore because of who they are.

They bring it all to the ice, scrape their knuckles for a pay-check, and earn their dollar—that's why the city of Detroit loves the Helms and and Clearys.

It's that love that makes me wish there were more players like them, because while they get under your skin, you never here any big complaints about them.

Being too deep is never a complaint you're going to hear from a fan, coach, or GM.

Especially when that depth can so easily cut the opposition...deep.

Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan you can do so through his profile. You can also check out all of his previous work in his archives.

Bryan also contributes to HockeyBarn.com. He can be reached at bryanthiel74@hotmail.com.


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