Heading into the weekend, Elliotte Friedman mentioned in his blog that the Philadelphia Flyers approached Jakub Voracek to let him know that he’s going to be exposed in the upcoming expansion draft. In the off-chance that he doesn’t get selected by the Seattle Kraken, the Flyers told him they would explore trading options. Barring any of that, if nothing works out, he will remain a Flyer heading into the 2021-22 season. There are a multitude of reasons as to why the Flyers have reached this point but he is also a very divisive character. You either love him or want him gone and there’s no in between. Both sides have very valid arguments but what he’s done in the orange and black cannot be overlooked.
The Flyers acquired him in one of two blockbuster trades in the summer of 2011. Trading Jeff Carter and Mike Richards signalled a massive shift in team culture and philosophy and eventually built a core that has stayed together ever since. Even though Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds are no longer with the Flyers, Voracek and Sean Couturier (first rounder acquired in the Carter deal) have been there since day 1 with Claude Giroux.
Individual numbers and statistically speaking, Jakub Voracek should be recognized as an all time Flyers great. Whether you like his on ice performance or not, his stats paint a pretty picture. He’s 10th all time in games played (727), 5th in assists (427), 10th in points (604), 5th in power play assists (162), and 18th in goals (177). However, a lot of that is going to be overlooked because of his lack of team success.
Before 2012-2013, the Flyers and playoff hockey were synonymous. They made the playoffs 5 straight years between 2007-08 and 2011-12, before that 11 straight years between 1994-95 and 2005-06, and even before that they made the playoffs in 17 straight years from 1972-73 to 1988-89. In total, they made the playoffs 35 times in their first 44 seasons. The 90s and 2000s were successful because Bobby Clarke and Paul Holmgren were very aggressive general managers who always went out of their way to try to make their teams competitive, even if it meant gambling with the future. Ron Hextall was the complete opposite and that’s when the Flyers finally went into a rebuild.
They were very lean years and Voracek had to spend his prime years with some not so spectacular teams. After the 2012 playoffs, things went downhill fast and the Flyers are still struggling to keep afloat. Over those years, Voracek (alongside Giroux) had to deal with the brunt of the problems, as well as the blame, because it was unheard of for a Philadelphia based hockey team to be struggling as much as they were.
Ever since he joined the Flyers, they’ve been alternating every year between playoffs and draft lottery. Whenever they made the playoffs, they were often overmatched by a much better team and stars like Giroux and Voracek seemingly shrank. In 45 playoff games he has only recorded 9 goals and 27 points, with 10 of those points coming in his first season.
Whether it was being overmatched or not clutch, the Flyers relied heavily on their top line. If Giroux and Voracek weren’t producing, odds of them winning a game, let alone being close, was far fetched. Yes, it is true that your top players need to produce when it matters most, but when your team is top line heavy and devoid of talent, it is very easy for playoff teams to shut you down. Let’s not forget that Voracek helped lead a team that had Ryan White, Chris VandeVelde, Nick Cousins, Sam Gagner, Evgeny Medvedev, Nick Schultz, Andrew MacDonald, Brandon Manning, and Radko Gudas to the playoffs.
Flaming out in the first round is definitely far from ideal but context is also important. They were overmatched in both series’ against the Washington Capitals (2016) and the Penguins (2018). Their lack of talent and depth was on full display when playoff hockey reared its ugly head. Giroux and Voracek were constantly locked up and even though they pulled out some miraculous victories, it was very evident that they were far away from ever being considered a contender.
Even though Voracek has great numbers and can be considered a Flyers great, there are many reasons as to why we have reached this point. For starters, the Flyers desperately need cap space to maneuver around the open market as well as signing their own players to extensions. His 8.25 million cap hit is exceedingly high with a flat cap and it doesn’t help that there are still 3 years remaining. Secondly, the Flyers have not had any bit of success in the last decade, whether warranted or not, it boils down to the core/star players.
Based on some of the decisions and line changes, it also doesn’t seem like the coaching staff, especially Alain Vigneault, are huge supporters. From the front office’s stand point, sometimes a GM can be stuck on a player if they traded for him or extended him to a long term deal. Since Chuck Fletcher did neither, this should help expedite and facilitate a move. If they do really want to make changes, and drastic ones at that, you have to start at the top. So yes, performance has a lot to do with this decision but money is probably the biggest motivator.
There are a few options and landing spots for his services. He is still a good hockey player but he carries a bad contract. This year seems to be the off-season where star players are available wherever you look, which could help with so many teams looking to retool their rosters. The first and most preferred destination would be Seattle. The Kraken will have a chance to select Voracek since he won’t be protected and hiring Dave Hakstol might’ve been a blessing in disguise for the Flyers. It was a tumultuous tenure as head coach but Voracek was one of the few players who really took massive strides under his leadership. If Hakstol does have any input in the decision making, this would be the most ideal situation for the Flyers.
If they don’t want to select him straight up, the Flyers can entice them with a relatively high draft pick. If they still decide to look elsewhere, then the Flyers have to really surveil the trade market. In regards to tradable assets, most teams are probably keeping their eyes locked on Jack Eichel, Seth Jones, Matthew Tkachuk, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Johnny Gaudreau. Due to everyone being so restricted by the cap, there will be many teams losing out on available star talent. So if the Flyers have to wait things out just a little bit, it probably won’t hurt, especially if they can find a team desperately looking for a difference maker on offense.
The biggest hurdle if Seattle doesn’t select Voracek is going to be salary retention in any future deals. Unless the Flyers are trading him to St Louis for Tarasenko or any other team where salaries match, the Flyers will have to eat a little bit of money to get a deal done. However, one thing that needs to be finalized from the Flyers, is what they’re looking for in return. Prospects and picks shouldn’t be the main target and if you’re getting rid of a playmaker, one should be coming back in return. That being said, it’s also important to note that the Flyers are in dire need of defensive help, so if they can patch that hole up in a Voracek deal that could work as well. However, they better have a future replacement in mind for the assists and playmaking ability they’ll be losing.
The final option is that they don’t find a trade partner and have to keep him in place for the time being. It would be less than ideal because both parties have seemingly agreed to part ways, so bringing him back in the fold might cause several on and off-ice issues. Attitude has been an issue for Voracek and I don’t think you would want to bring him back if he was being actively shopped around. At that point, you’re just asking for trouble.
As volatile as his play and attitude has been, it should never overlook his impact and statistical consistency. He spent the prime of his career on a team that was shifting from contender to rebuilder back to contender. The lack of depth and talent around him was frustrating and had Ron Hextall just stuck to his guns, instead of putting too much stock into one playoff run, things might’ve been different.
However, nearly a decade has passed and nothing has changed. His salary and cap hit is the biggest problem and it would be a god-send if the Flyers didn’t have to retain too much salary, let alone any. Regardless of what Seattle ends up doing, there will be a trade market for a player of his skill level. There is very little doubt that a trade won’t occur so if both sides are willing to part ways and a deal gets done, then it’s time that we finally bid farewell to a great Flyer and wish him nothing but the best.