There’s no doubt about it: Jakub Voracek had a bad year in 2015-16. His 44 assists were down 15 from the year prior, and his 11 goals ... I mean, come on. Jake Voracek only scoring 11 goals? That’s unacceptable for a guy earning $8.25 million per year.
And as we know, this is Philadelphia. When you’re a highly paid athlete expected to be one of the most important offensive pieces on the team, you’re going to hear it when you don’t do that. Jake certainly heard it last year. A brief sample:
Hard to say this. But jake voracek is playing like a fuckin bum all year. Needs to wake the fuck up— ᔕᕼᗩQ (@IshaqPacha) April 15, 2016
@mikepaggs been saying it for years he needs someone to play with him Voracek is a bum— Reg Dunlop (@binzzzzzz) April 19, 2016
Hey voracek what happened to the guy that put up 89 points last year we need that guy back cause this other guy is a straight bum— Firm Handshake (@Bobby_Leaman_15) April 15, 2016
Voracek better start playing like the second highest paid player on the team dude is a bum lately— Steve Buchinsky (@Scubaa_Steve_) April 3, 2016
But look, down years happen. The problem arises when down years turn into multiple down years -- when they are the sign of something bigger. Is Jakub Voracek suddenly a sub-15 goal scorer, or is he going to bounce back to form in 2016-17 and beyond?
There’s lots of reason to believe he will be better.
Voracek’s career average shooting percentage is 9.5 percent. In 2015-16, only 5.2 percent of Jake’s shots found the back of the net — a remarkably low number for a guy with his kind of talent. For instance, if Jake had taken the same number of shots over the course of the season but shot at his career average shooting percentage, he would have scored 20 goals instead of 11.
This is even more pronounced on the power play: Jake has a career average shooting percentage of 7.79 percent at 5-on-4. He scored just one goal on 71 shots on the power play this past year, which is laughably abysmal. That’s a conversation rate of 1.41 percent. He is not that bad over the long term.
Shooting percentages can fluctuate for lots of reasons, but generally speaking, looking at individual years will lead your analysis of a player astray. Voracek has seen shooting percentages as high as 17.1 percent (during the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season) and as low as last year’s 5.2 percent, but all the other years are right between 7.7 percent and 10.4 percent. As Eric T. examined a few years back on this site:
However, it is critical to bear in mind that a single year's shooting percentage data is almost entirely noise. When we set expectations for a player, we need to look at multiple years of shooting percentage data and remember that whatever happened last month or even last year is pretty close to meaningless.
So, look at the big picture. Do we think that Voracek suddenly became half the player he used to be, or that this year was simply an outlier? I’d lean towards the latter.
There are pretty obvious reasons for the struggles. We all know what pressure is like. (Maybe not NHL-level pressure, but pressure nonetheless.) And we all saw Jake play early in the season. Just months earlier, he had signed that 8-year, $66 million contract and you can imagine what it’s like to feel the expectations of the contract while you have a slow start to your season. One game without a goal turns into five, turns into seven, turns into 10. You start squeezing the stick. Your teammates know you’re struggling, the fans are on your case. It’s hurting the team. It’s a big burden, and it clearly weighed on Voracek for the first two or so months of the season.
It took until November 7 for him to score his first goal, and it took another month for his second goal to come. As you can see on the charts below, that second goal in December is when he started to get back into form in several statistical categories — shooting percentage, scoring chances per 60 minutes of ice time and points per 60 minutes.
After scoring just one goal and 13 assists in the first 29 games of the season, the switch flipped for Voracek in mid-December. Over the next 30 games, he scored nine goals and 24 assists -- better than a point per game. What was his shooting percentage over this stretch? Right on the money at his career average: 9.5 percent.
And then ... well, yeah, there’s the other noticeable point on those charts: a severe late-season drop off. That was the result of an unfortunate foot/ankle injury that put him in a walking boot and sidelined him for two weeks, from a win against Minnesota on February 25 until March 19 against Pittsburgh. The injury clearly threw a wrench into what had been an extremely strong rebound. It’s nice to think about what could have happened with Jake’s year had he not been hurt in February.
But despite the unfortunate timing of the injury and the rough start Jake had to his season, there’s plenty of reason to think he will rebound to at least his career averages this coming year. He did an admirable job of doing just that after the difficult first 30ish games of his 2015-16 season, and with a fresh start both health-wise and mentally, we’ll hope he finds his form in October instead of December. If he doesn’t ... well, then there might be reason to call him a bum and actually mean it.