What’s wrong with Jakub Voracek?
Through 10 games last year, the Czech-born winger notched 15 points, including a four-game multi-point streak. A year later, the eighth-year veteran can’t seem to buy a spot on the scoresheet, failing to find the back of the net one time, while tallying just three assists.
It’s not that Voracek lacks the money to do so. But after signing an eight-year, $66 million deal back in July, the 26-year-old forward’s struggles is anything but effort-related.
Tough Luck Jake
After leading the Flyers with 81 points last season, including a third straight 20-plus goal season, only a fool would argue against the declaration of Voracek’s arrival to NHL stardom.
The 6-2, 214-pounder not only ambushed the scoresheet on what appeared to be a nightly basis, he did so by driving some of the team’s best possession numbers.
Despite the team’s 49.24 percent SAT percentage Close at even-strength last season, Voracek’s mark of 52.80 percent was third among teammates who appeared in 70 games or more.
Further, no other skater generated more five-on-five scoring chances by the same standard. Voracek’s 7.49 percent Relative Scoring Chances-For percentage trailed only Michael Raffl’s 7.54 percent showing while playing in 15 more games than his linemate for a better part of last season.
Jakub Voracek: Currently the only player in the NHL with at least 40 shots on goal who is yet to score a goal. He's due.
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) October 30, 2015
But aside from remaining goalless through his first 10 games – heading into Monday night’s tilt in Vancouver – not much has changed for Voracek from last season to now, at least in the scoring chances department.
Tim Riday of CSN Philly recently illustrated this fact in his column titled, Flyers Weekly Observations:
Jakub Voracek is doing all the right things but just can’t find the back of the net. He’s fired 44 shots on goal this season — 20 in his last four games — but has nothing to show for his efforts. His luck is bound to change because he’s generating a high rate of quality chances and is still dominating the possession game.
Contrary to any narrative floating around about the fifth-year Flyer, Voracek has been anything but gun shy. His current 48.80 percent SAT percentage Close may slightly lag behind the team’s 48.83 percent standing, but his 11.16 percent Relative Scoring Chances-For at even-strength not only leads his entire team, but also ranks him 24th in the entire league among forwards heading into Nov. 2.
In spite of the overall favorable analytics, Voracek’s 967 percent SPSv percentage is a telling number. Not only does this combination of shooting and save percentage trail only Matt Read among team forwards, it’s significantly lower from his finishing mark of 1012 percent from a season ago.
In other words, the former first-round pick has been severely snakebitten. As it turns out, though, he’s not alone.
Laughton and Voracek are 1-2 on the team in shots on goal per 60 (at evens) and only have 1 goal. They'll get chances. Just gotta finish.
— flyers defense (@Kurt_BSH) October 30, 2015
Philadelphia’s 2.00 goals per game ties them with Toronto for the NHL’s second lowest average goal count per game, while ranking 19th in on-ice shots-on-goal differential with a minus-8 contrast.
“At least last year when I didn’t score I was creating chances and I had primary or secondary assists,” said Voracek, via NJ.com’s Randy Miller. “As a line, the puck hasn’t gone in for us this time of the year.”
While the Flyers have shown flashes of improvement in various faucets of the game under first-year head coach Dave Hakstol, perhaps their ongoing strife with secondary scoring intensifies Voracek’s early slump.
Add in a new coach and system, as well as a hefty cap hit that nearly doubles next year – jumping from $4.25 million now, to $8.25 million next season – and it becomes apparent the All-Star forward is likely pressing a bit.
But whether it’s to justify the abundance of money being thrown his way (in his own head), or running up against tough luck, Voracek is hardly the only star to run into a slow start, and he definitely won’t be the last.
White Knuckles Tight
Although the tandem of Giroux and Voracek combined for 154 points last season, Voracek’s baffling start to the current campaign is hardly foreign to the team he skates for, as Giroux’s start to the 2013-14 reveals.
Although exceeding Voracek’s three-point total by two within that span, it would take the Flyers captain 16 games to pot his first goal of the season, firing 31 shots on goal before finding the back of the net against Edmonton on Nov. 9 of 2013.
Lost in Giroux’s perplexing disposition, however, was that Voracek himself added only one goal and three assists during that same stretch.
Obviously, that does little to alleviate the pressures of producing in the present moment, especially with the team dropping four of their last six. But it does show, however, that Philadelphia’s talented 1-2 punch are more than capable of overcoming slow starts.
“It’s very frustrating,” said teammate Claude Giroux last week, per Matt Mullin of Philly Voice. “But we’ve got to find a way to do good things for the team and when we’re out there, we just have to make sure we play within the system and play as a team.”
Despite the growing uneasiness, it is worthy to note that Giroux not only finished the 2012-13 campaign with a team-leading 86 points, but also Voracek’s final count that year of 23 goals and 39 assists for 62 points.
The former Columbus Blue Jacket would follow that effort up, of course, with a career-high in assists, overall points, as well as power play points in 2014-15, earning him a well-deserved pay raise.
However, with the sample size of games growing larger, some may believe the pressure of carrying an AAV of an elite superstar next season to be the central factor of Voracek’s current lack of point production.
October 29 2015: the day we start to question the Jake Voracek contract. Surprised it took this long.
— FGSB (@FlyGoalScoredBy) October 29, 2015
According to Petr Svoboda, Voracek’s agent, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“I don’t think it is the contract,” Svoboda recently told CSN Philly’s Tim Panaccio. “He is not the kind of guy that thinks about that. He is playing well, but they’re not going in. I have confidence it will happen. He gets one and they’ll come pouring in.”
If the 2013-14 version of Giroux isn’t modern enough to prove this logical response, perhaps there are others throughout the league today who can bring validity to Svoboda’s remarks.
Pittsburgh Penguins star center Sidney Crosby was held completely scoreless through his team’s first five games before splashing the scoresheet for three points against Florida on Oct. 20.
Through Pittsburgh’s first 11 games, their captain still only sits two points ahead of Voracek in the point department, and has been held in check in one more game than Voracek.
There's a lot of big name #NHL talent off to slow starts this yr. #Crosby #Getzlaf #Perry #Giroux #Voracek -just to name a few.
— Robb Scott (@RobbScottArt) October 25, 2015
Such barren production often leads to changes, as both Hakstol and Penguins head coach Mike Johnston have juggled their lines in search of a jump to spark their struggling offensive weapons. It even helped Milan Lucic when Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter joined the Pacific Division newcomer with Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli.
But while some of these changes have proven to be effective in the early going, Voracek’s brief time away from Giroux has not paid the same dividends.
Writing for HockeyBuzz, Bill Meltzer further writes:
The Flyers juggled various forward lines and defense pairs for the start of the Buffalo game, but the changes were ineffectual. Hakstol restored some lines — including putting Voracek and Giroux back together on the top line — and made some additional tweaks at Sunday’s practice in Vancouver.
The handful of injuries throughout the Flyers lineup hasn’t exactly helped rejuvenate their struggling point producer either. With under $1 million in available cap space, Hakstol’s squad will embark on four-game west coast road trip with only 12 forwards who didn’t start the season in Lehigh Valley of the AHL.
“Like I said, if you don’t have confidence, you don’t see the lanes very good,” Voracek added, via Panaccio. “You’re hesitating to shoot the puck because you’re scared it’s going to get blocked.”
With 44 shots on net through 10 games, it’s safe to assume Voracek is not lacking any confidence in his ability, even if the current offensive stats suggest otherwise.