Philadelphia Flyers: A requiem for Jakub Voracek

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 13: Jakub Voracek #93 of the Philadelphia Flyers (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 13: Jakub Voracek #93 of the Philadelphia Flyers (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

Alas, poor Jakub Voracek, I knew him. Pretty well, too.

That’s what happens when a player spends a decade in your city, but that time is now over after the Philadelphia Flyers dealt Voracek to Columbus this past weekend for Cam Atkinson. It was a statement move by the Flyers and GM Chuck Fletcher, as they finally cut the cord with a core member of the team’s leadership group. Looking back on Jake’s time with the Flyers, I find his legacy to be a fascinating one.

Though there were plenty of positives to discuss, Voracek was subject to a litany of backlash and anger over the years, largely due to the failure of the team as a whole to make any kind of deep playoff runs in his ten seasons the club. You wouldn’t think that people would seem so dismissive of a body of work that vaulted Voracek onto the scoring leaderboards of a half-century-old franchise, but this appears to be the case.

Jakub Voracek enjoyed a few borderline-great seasons with the Orange and Black, but it was ultimately the size of his contract that made him an easy target for blame. The decline in his play, both via the eye test and measurable numbers, over the last few years was not so drastic that it became completely unpalatable. That is, until you took the money into account. Voracek’s sizable cap hit, courtesy of an extension that he signed in 2015 after a well-timed breakout year, didn’t hurt the Flyers at first. But the writing is almost always on the wall for contracts of this length and magnitude, except for a few special exceptions.

And Voracek never was going to be the kind of exceptional player to buck that trend.

Trading Jakub Voracek is a mixed bag for the Philadelphia Flyers.

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I’ll back up, because it may seem like I am downplaying what he accomplished with the Flyers. I certainly don’t mean to, because he was able to provide first-line caliber production in multiple seasons for the Flyers while maintaining a floor that meant you could count on about 60 points per year at a minimum from Voracek.

The durability aspect of his Flyers’ tenure also can’t be ignored, as he missed only 20 games total due to injury, illness, or suspension over the course of a decade. As a result, it’s going to feel very strange in October to watch Flyers games that don’t feature a player who has suited up for over 97 percent of them since the 2011-12 campaign. It’s also just a bit lamentable that Jake will not play his 1,000th NHL game in a Flyers uniform, as he currently sits just 32 games shy of the mark.

Another factor that always seemed to be working against Voracek was that the player he was traded for, Jeff Carter, went on to win a pair of Stanley Cups (albeit taking an indirect route from Columbus to LA). If the Flyers had stuck with Carter, the thinking went, he could have become a champion with the franchise that drafted him. This is revisionist history, of course, as we don’t know what would have ever become of Carter had he stayed in Philly. But given the fact that the Flyers never got out of the second round with Voracek, people making this argument enjoy a certain level of impunity.

This week’s transaction essentially had to be made, due to Voracek’s increasing albatross of a contract (thanks, Ron Hextall) and the fact that younger key players like Sean Couturier, Carter Hart, and Travis Sanheim are all imminently due a pay hike. Voracek placed within the top 20 point scorers in the NHL last decade, yet here he is being unceremoniously traded out of town. At least the Flyers were able to generate a viable player in return, rather than making this a straight salary dump.

Going forward, I expect Flyers fans to wish no ill will toward Jake, but they won’t be openly rooting for him, either. Now the focus shifts to what Cam Atkinson can bring to the table as he replaces a player whose surface numbers indicate was a franchise icon but who wasn’t in actuality. The prevailing narrative about Voracek will be that his time in town should have ended even earlier than it did, despite reasonably good production throughout his tenure.

What a strange legacy, indeed.

In the end, the Philadelphia Flyers and their fans saw all that they were going to see from Jakub Voracek. And there was a lot of good in there. Yet his time was largely devoid of the kinds of signature moments that make a player stay with us even once they leave. Moving on from Voracek feels like a humane act that was best for everyone involved. It’s a weird feeling to have about an athlete with such a lengthy tenure in the city, but maybe it’s appropriate for this particular player.

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Jakub Voracek was a fairly successful player in an unsuccessful era of Flyers hockey, and that’s how he’ll stick in the minds of this town until the passage of time perhaps allows some to look more favorably upon him. Until then, he can at least breathe a little easier knowing that he is finally free from the slings and arrows of Philadelphia.