As we head into Flyers General Manager Chuck Fletcher’s first offseason at the helm of the club, we’ll take a look at just what he could have up his sleeve in order to put his stamp on the roster.
Fletcher’s predecessor, Ron Hextall, did leave the Flyers’ new boss a pretty well stocked cupboard full of prospects and draft picks in addition to an intriguing roster of veterans and youngsters at his disposal.
With the above in mind, it’s easy to see that Fletcher’s easiest path to putting his stamp and/or improving the Flyers going into next season will be via the trade market. While there are plenty of players across the league that should be available via trade, and Jason has looked all around the league at those, Fletcher also has some players on his roster than could very well be on the trade block themselves.
First up was Shayne Gostisbehere, next up is Jakub Voracek.
Few Flyers have been more productive that Voracek since the Czech forward was acquired back in 2011 along with a first (Sean Couturier) and third round pick (Nick Cousins) from Columbus in the Jeff Carter trade. The winger was the centerpiece in the return on the Carter deal, and has arguably been the better player since the trade went down. Throw in that the Flyers also landed an eventual No. 1 center in Couturier along with Voracek in the deal, and it’s easy to see that it’s perhaps one of the very best in Flyers history.
Since landing in Philadelphia for the 2011-12 season, Voracek has amassed 505 points in 605 games for the Flyers, averaging .83 points per game. That’s the second highest total of any Flyer in that span, trailing only captain Claude Giroux’s 612 points.
After enjoying a career year during his age-28 season in 2017-18 with 85 points (20 goals, 65 assists), Voracek took a bit of a step back this past season with 66 points (20 goals, 46 assists) as the Flyers missed the playoffs.
Not only did his points totals drop, but he continued to see a drop in his possession metrics by posting a declining Corsi For percentage (49.6%) for a third-straight season. Despite the drop, Voracek has continued to outperform his teammates with a 1.2% Corsi relative, though that number too has dropped in recent seasons as well.
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Armed with a long-term contract that pays him $8.25 million against the cap for the next five seasons, it’s fair to start to wonder aloud whether or not there’s concern with Voracek as he does turn 30 before the puck drops on the 2019-20 season. Players rarely see an uptick in their game on the downside of their careers (Giroux none withstanding), so it’s fair to ask whether or not now would be the time for the Flyers —and GM Chuck Fletcher— to explore the market.
The first obstacle is that contract, because it’s one heck of a large number even in today’s ever-rising market in the NHL.
Voracek’s cap hit currently represents the 19th-highest in the NHL, and 16th-highest among forwards. Among that group, only Corey Perry, Jamie Benn, and Anze Kopitar scored at a lower rate than Voracek this past season. So did William Nylander, but his cap hit was bloated due to the prorated amount as part of his lengthy holdout.
The good news for Fletcher is that Voracek is still highly productive, has stayed relatively healthy in his career, and doesn’t have any sort of no-trade or no-move protection in his contract. That allows Fletcher flexibility if he were to pursue a move, despite the massive contract.
While Voracek doesn’t fit the profile of a 30-40 goal scorer - the kind of forwards that GM’s salivate over - he’s a top-six forward with 60+ point potential and that has a ton of value around the league. He’s a big time point producer at even strength and on the power play, and plays with strength that should allow his game to age fairly well even when the top-end speed drops off.
Not many teams would be in position to move a player like Voracek, but Fletcher is in an interesting spot this summer as the Flyers are well stocked with forward prospects in their pipeline and while none are proven to the level of a Jake Voracek, it could provide a chance for Fletcher to shed a contract that he could view as unfavorable going forward as he shapes his team.
Travis Konecny, Oskar Lindblom, and Nolan Patrick are already on the NHL roster and vying for more time in all situations to aid their development while Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, and Isaac Ratcliffe are waiting in the wings with eyes on a jump sooner rather than later. Then there’s also Wade Allison, if he ever decides to sign with the Flyers.
The pipeline is deep should Fletcher opt to try and get out from under Jake Voracek as part putting his so-called stamp on the team. But replacing a guy averaging nearly a point-per game is not easy, especially for a team trending the wrong way in scoring the past few years even with Voracek on the roster.
With new deals coming for Ivan Provorov, Travis Sanheim, and Travis Konency, it wouldn’t be the worst thing for Fletcher to add more room to operate under the cap. It’s not a necessity given the room he already has to operate with this summer, but with extra money he could easily chase a top-four defenseman and a No. 2 center without blinking.
Then there’s the fact that the Flyers are closer to contention after watching Carter Hart burst onto the scene and provide stable goaltending to complement a team that was looking for just that. Keep everything in place, and a full season of Hart, a few additions such as a No. 2 center and a veteran defenseman and the Flyers will surely themselves back in the playoffs.
That could complicate things as Fletcher would have a hard time selling any trade involving Voracek unless it makes the Flyers significantly better somewhere else on the roster immediately. The Flyers could badly use another top-four defenseman, and it goes without saying that No. 2 center remains a need, but would Voracek net either in return given his contract? Given the emphasis league-wide to prioritize down the middle and on top-end defense, Fletcher would figure to really have to fleece a team in any Voracek deal to make the Flyers significantly better and anything less would amount to a sort of salary dump for a productive player that wouldn’t be easy to replace.
So while concerns are starting to prop up in Voracek’s game, and the idea of decline setting in prior to his age-30 season with five years still left on his contract being very real, dealing the winger this summer would likely be a mistake as the Flyers would struggle to find anything close to the value that Voracek brings.