Jakub Voracek struggled to find answers. He wasn’t sure why the Flyers saw such a goal-scoring plummet after the first two months of the season. He didn’t know exactly what this team needs moving forward.
In fact, Voracek said “I don’t know” three times during his end-of-the-season press conference last Tuesday. He looked worn down but pensive after just finishing his 82nd game of the season. The 2016-17 campaign was still fresh but disappointingly done.
But Voracek did know one thing. He knew darn well the history of the Flyers’ current core and what’s next if the script doesn’t soon change.
“We’re in our prime years,” Voracek said. “We’ve got to make sure that we step up our game and get this team to the playoffs and start winning some series because if we don’t, it’s going to get blown up and we all know it.”
The Flyers are watching the playoffs for the third time in the last five years, marking their worst five-season stretch since 1989-90 to 1993-94, when they missed the postseason all five times. The Flyers have not won a playoff series since 2011-12.
Voracek is well aware.
“There’s no reason not to believe in ourselves,” Voracek said. “It’s tough to tell you something else. We have what, won one [playoff] series vs. Pittsburgh in six years? Right? If I’m not mistaken. It’s not good enough.”
General manager Ron Hextall laughed two days later when he heard of Voracek’s comments.
“Jake said that?” he asked. “Jake’s a hockey player. Jake can play hockey.”
Hextall, comfortable with the veterans in place, said this is the team’s leadership group — no one is coming in here to change or add to it.
“We expect that of them,” Hextall said. “They’re not 20 years old. They’re mid-to-late 20s those guys, absolutely, they should be the leaders of our team.”
The Flyers’ core of Voracek, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier welcomes that responsibility. All five are under 30 years old and see some of their best years ahead.
That doesn’t mean the pressure isn’t on — those five feel it. They know things can change quickly in the NHL, just how the league is turning younger and younger.
“Of course,” Giroux said. “When you don’t make the playoffs, when you don’t meet your expectations, change might happen. But at the end of the day, it’s not up to us. For us, it’s to keep working, keep doing what we’re doing. We like our team, we like our group. We didn’t really change from last year.”
Voracek sounded like a player growing impatient with the results. Hextall and the front office have practiced plenty of patience. Voracek believes it’s time to reward them for it.
“It’s a time for us to take that kind of responsibility,” Voracek said. “G’s 29, he’s not a young guy anymore. I’ll be 28, Simmer’s going to be 29. It’s the time for us to take over I think. We’ve been around for a while.”
Giroux is cheap nhl jerseys authentic the oldest of the five aforementioned players, a group that has been intact since the 2011-12 season. The Flyers’ captain turns 30 years old in January. He took another step back in 2016-17 — both health and production wise.
The Flyers see a much stronger Giroux next season. It still all starts with the nine-year Flyer.
“He’s going to get some time to get some rest, get some training,” Simmonds said. “He’ll come back healthy. Just the type of player and the type of competitor he is, he’ll be back 100 percent.”
The organization’s abundance of youth is a reason why the Flyers still see promise in their core.
“Overall, we have some young guys getting their first steps here in the league,” Couturier said. “I think it’s just growing as a team, more mature as a player. I think everyone needs to step up next year and be better.”
The Flyers finished eight points behind last year’s team, which snuck into the playoffs on the second-to-last day of the regular season.
Does the fear of change ever sink in?
“It’s not my decision,” Couturier said. “I can’t control that. I like our core. Next year, all these guys are back and we’re a pretty good team. It’s just little things during the year, a few points that we let slip basically cost us. We’ve just got to be better and get more wins.”
Voracek, always honest and transparent, was harshest on himself. It was an early sign of leadership from the core facing increasing pressure.
“As a player, you’ve got to take pride in plus-minus, and I’m minus-24 — it’s embarrassing,” Voracek said. “It goes on a stretch and you have to take pride in that.”