Great Expectations: Flyers Lock Up Voracek For Four Years, Basically Replacing van Riemsdyk

After coming up short in their quest for top flight defenseman Shea Weber, the Philadelphia Flyers decided to secure the services of one of their highly regarded own players, signing restricted free agent right wing Jakub Voracek to a four year, $17 million contract extension on Thursday.

The contract carries a salary cap hit of $4.25 million per season which is the second highest amongst Flyers forwards behind center Danny Briere and a $2 million raise from his previous one year contract.

In addressing the media on Wednesday to address the Weber match, Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren indicated that a deal with Voracek was “only a matter of time.”

That matter of time turned out to be within 24 hours.

“We are very happy to have Jake under contract and look forward to him being a big part of our future,” said Holmgren.

While the Flyers were conducting heavy free agency pursuits of Weber, Zack Parise, and Ryan Suter, Voracek watched as his contract talks went longer than expected.

In a conference call with reporters, he stated that he didn’t feel any anxiety.

“I was patient. We all knew what was happening in free agency,” Voracek told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I knew I would get the opportunity to sign and I’m happy with the terms of the deal.”

Pretty remarkable turnaround for a player who was called out by Scott Arniel, his former Columbus Blue Jackets head coach, last offseason for his lack of conditioning before being traded to Philadelphia, along with forwards Sean Couturier and Nick Cousins as 2011 draft choices, for forward Jeff Carter.

After signing him to a one year contract, the Flyers were pleased with the Czech forwards performance, especially his two way play as his plus-minus increased from a minus-three to a plus-11.

While the deal Voracek signed was within market expectations (Florida’s signing of RW Kris Versteeg at $4.4 million per for four years as an example), the team’s expectations of him are far greater. Holmgren stated on that was that the Czech forward will man the top line right wing slot next to center Claude Giroux and left wing Scott Hartnell.

Two factors play a major role in the Flyers commitment to Voracek. One is that he showed excellent growth in his game last season. With Jaromir Jagr as a mentor, the Czech forward began to use his body more as a shield to protect the puck, allowing for more possession and scoring opportunities in the attacking zone.

Those lessons, as Voracek put it, were “priceless.”

By playing on a line with Giroux, the second expectation is that the Flyers expect that he will focus a bit more on finishing plays with one of the league’s top playmakers.
Basically, the Flyers expect Voracek to fulfill the expectations they originally had for James van Riemsdyk.

Battle of the V’s: Voracek Vs. van Riemsdyk
While coincidental, Voracek and former Flyer, now Maple Leaf van Riemsdyk have the exact same salary cap hit, with the later term of contract was for six years, but both bear the burden of high expectations.

The comparisons between the two are fascinating. Both were taken in the top ten in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft (van Riemsdyk second overall, Voracek seventh to the Blue Jackets). Both are larger players (Voracek 6’2, 214 lbs, van Riemsdyk 6’3, 200lbs) who were expected to develop some semblance of a “power” style game, but both players have shown tendencies at times to prefer making plays with the puck more than finishing off scoring chances.

That stated their developmental cycles are different. Voracek entered the NHL one year after being drafted, while van Riemsdyk chose to stay for two seasons at the University of New Hampshire. The later was encouraged to play a more hard- skating, physically robust style, but had a penchant for stopping his forward speed while carrying the puck to look for a team mate to pass to when he had chances to cut hard to the net for a scoring chance.

Voracek also displayed similar proclivities in Columbus while also gaining a reputation for inconsistent effort, leading to the afor-mentioned Arniel critique before he was traded to Philadelphia. But his performance as a pupil of sorts under Jagr, his fellow Kladno native and soon to be Hall of Famer, saw a more directed Voracek using his strong skating and wider frame to give opposing defensemen trouble in the attacking zone.

Certainly comparing the two going forward won’t be an exact science, not with the Maple Leafs intention of moving van Riemsdyk to center come training camp.

Voracek’s last three seasons have seen him post point totals of 50, 46, and 48 points, respectively versus van Riemsdyk’s three seasons of 35, 40, and 24. In fairness, injuries and the need to add to their defensive corps led to the team’s decision to trade the later to the Toronto Maple Leafs for defenseman Luke Schenn.

That first point of fairness shades how we look at van Riemsdyk’s numbers as he posted his highest points per game totals of his career (0.56). In van Riemsdyk’s favor is the fact that in four seasons Voracek has yet to eclipse the 20 goal mark, while he did in the 2010-11 season.

Postseason comparisons between the two are also interesting. Much is made of van Riemsdyk’s performance during the 2011 playoffs, in which he scored seven goals in 11 games and although the Flyers lost to the Bruins in a four game sweep, he dominated shifts in the offensive zone at times, giving the eventual champions fits.

In last year’s playoffs, Voracek put on a puck possession clinic during the Flyers first round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins, scored the overtime winning goal in Game One of that series, and finished his first playoff run with eight assists and 10 points in 11 games.

So both players will go into next season with the burden of high expectations for their respective clubs and it should make for interesting side by side comparisons as their careers progress. Perhaps like Voracek, a new home for van Riemsdyk will help him to achieve his high ceiling. Perhaps Voracek enters into the rarified scoring area that could be afforded by playing with one of the league’s best passers.

It should be very interesting to watch.
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Anthony Mingioni covers the Philadelphia Flyers and the National Hockey League for Sportsology.
You can follow him on Twitter: @AnthonyMingioni or contact him via email at anthonymingioni@yahoo.com

JVR against the Bruins. photo by del Tufo