DETROIT -- It wasn't the answer that Detroit Red Wings center Darren Helm was hoping to hear, but at least the medical specialist he saw recently in New York for his injured back had an answer.
Helm, a speedy third-line center, has only played one game for Detroit this season and has missed 17 straight with a frustrating back injury that, until recently, was caused by an unknown reason. After consulting with the specialist last Monday, Helm was given somewhat of a diagnosis.
"He seemed to think he found a small tear in one of the discs," Helm said. "It's kind of a six-to-eight week injury, he said, from the time it happened. I don't know if I'm close to where he thinks I should be healing or not, but I do feel better. That's the silver lining, I guess."
Playing in Helm's usual third-line center role is rookie Joakim Andersson, who will be there again Sunday when the Red Wings host the red-hot Chicago Blackhawks (12:30 p.m. ET, NBC, NHLN-CA).
Andersson has played well in Helm's absence, chipping in three goals and two assists in 11 games, but not having Helm's elite speed has taken its toll on Detroit's overall game – especially penalty killing.
It's been a frustrating process for Helm, who also was sidelined late last season by a knee injury followed by a skate blade cutting tendons in his wrist during Detroit's first-round series against the Nashville Predators in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The back injury flared up Jan. 10 while Helm was weightlifting to stay in shape for this season.
"I'm glad they found something, not glad what they found," Helm said. "It's nice to know what it is. I can tell people what it is instead of saying, 'I have no idea,' and they just think I'm milking everything. It is something now. I hope that's all it is, so I can get over this and feel better."
Helm said his back is improving at least enough to ramp up his off-ice work. He recently started using an elliptical machine to work on his cardio conditioning, for example.
"Just daily stuff [like] moving around the house and getting down here [to Joe Louis Arena] … it feels better," Helm said. "Before, I definitely wasn't able to do any exercises comfortably. I feel like I'm starting to do that now. I'm still a ways away from doing the stuff I would normally want to do. This week I'm doing stuff, last week I wasn't. So, I'm happy."