In defense of Jakub Voracek

Flyers fans on social media have been expressing frustration with Jakub Voracek to the point of calling for a trade. Here’s a few reasons why that might not be a good idea.

For a guy coming off a season that saw him achieve career highs in points and assists, a lot of fans seem unhappy with Jakub Voracek. Maybe it’s because he didn’t have a very good playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Perhaps the high number of turnovers has turned them against the Flyers winger. Or possibly they’re just angry Voracek blocked them on Twitter. But even if we’re frustrated by these flaws in Voracek’s game or social media decisions, Jake Voracek remains a very good, even elite level winger that would be hard to replace.

Full disclosure here-I have suggested(or even advocated) that the Flyers could explore a trade of Voracek on social media while discussing the Flyers with other fans. As the player himself has said more than once, one playoff series win in 7 seasons isn’t cutting it for a team’s core group. As good as Voracek is, he’s in his late twenties and carries a large cap hit. That contract could make getting full value for Voracek difficult, but it’s not impossible.

Voracek started the season playing with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier on a dynamic line that really carried the Flyers early. It was a line that had size and skill and was difficult for opposing teams to contain. During the early going, guys like Valtteri Filppula were providing some depth scoring and the Flyers were competitive, despite being stuck near .500 in terms of record.

However, that depth scoring dried up. Filppula seemed to run out of gas a bit and rookie Nolan Patrick was struggling after spending most of his summer recovering from surgery that cut into his training time during the summer. Coach Dave Hakstol had few options, so Voracek was moved to the second line and replaced with Travis Konecny. Konecny’s game exploded.

Voracek ended up being tasked with carrying guys who were either injured, unable to drive play or who simply didn’t fit. Voracek stayed productive and managed to remain an effective play driver despite the limitations of his linemates. We expect our team leaders to put team before self and continue to provide a strong level of personal performance. Voracek did just that. He dropped down and played with lesser linemates without a gripe and continued to produce. He posted solid possession metrics( 50.66 CF, + 1.26 CF REL) given the amount of time he spent with players like Filppula (44.53 CF, -7.2 CF REL) and that he often got double shifted with the Flyers 4th line in close games. That’s a difficult group of guys to carry.

Since joining the Flyers in the summer of 2011, Voracek is 5th in the NHL among wingers in points.

These factors almost certainly led to Voracek’s maddening tendency to turn over the puck by trying to do too much. Jake can also be an emotional player and that will, at times, lead to bad penalties or exceptionally reckless play. Guys with Voracek’s skill level are already more likely to be willing to try to pull off the jaw dropping deke to beat 3 defenders. Add a guy playing with frustration or maybe just a touch of the red ass and you’re going to see turnovers where a simple dump in or pass back to the defenseman to reset were smarter choices.

So sure, there’s warts. But there’s a lot more good in Voracek than bad. Since joining the Flyers in the summer of 2011, Voracek is 5th in the NHL among wingers in points. The names ahead of him are Patrick Kane, Alex Ovechkin, Phil Kessel and Blake Wheeler. That’s elite company. Voracek has scored 80+ points twice as a Flyer and can take over a game. That’s not a guy you trade lightly. Looking at xGF/60 this past season, Voracek is right there with names like John Tavares, David Krejci and Logan Couture. In short, he’s on par with a group of very good to elite players using various statistical analysis, both advanced and standard. Oh and for that pass first bias of Voracek’s? He’s 22nd in the NHL in shots over the past 3 seasons, with more shots than guys like Brad Marchand, James van Riemsdyk, James Neal and Rick Nash.

Let’s also not discount the impact Voracek had on prized rookie Nolan Patrick. Patrick started the year slow, and his play ranged from mediocre to bad as he had to adjust to the NHL after missing most of his draft season with injury and an off season surgery to his core. Toss in a concussion, and the second half emergence of Patrick was a huge story line to the Flyers season. Not coincidentally, Patrick’s breakout started when Voracek ended up on his line.  Certainly being healthy and getting his conditioning up were factors, but don’t discount what playing with an elite level winger can do for a youngster.

These are things not easily replaced in the sort of trade the Flyers would likely end up having to make if they were to move Voracek. His contract isn’t a killer, but it is a significant one. There’s no built in trade clauses, but Voracek’s salary each year is similar (there’s one season near the end of the deal where Voracek’s money mostly comes from a $5mm bonus), so a budget team isn’t likely to be involved to reach the cap floor.

In terms of return, what could the Flyers expect? They’d almost certainly have to take a salary back, and while that scenario wouldn’t likely be as extreme as taking on Lehtera’s contract as in the Brayden Schenn trade, it’s doubtful we’d see a veteran anywhere near as good as Voracek be available in a trade unless there were mitigating factors. Maybe a guy who is disgruntled like Buffalo’s Ryan O’Reilly is a possibility, but where does a 28 year old winger fit in with a rebuilding Sabres team? Perhaps Montreal could offer up Max Pacioretty, but he’s in a similar contract situation as Simmonds and would be a bit prohibitive to re-sign after a trade. The Flyers can’t simply give Voracek away and very likely would not be able to get enough in return to consider trading him.

Trading Voracek now would likely result in the Flyers not being as good a team as they were in 2017-18. Given Hextall’s statement that it’s time for the Flyers to take that next step and that simply making the playoffs isn’t good enough, it’s hard to see how trading Voracek works. As frustrating as Voracek can be at times, the underlying play and production is far and away worth it.