By Tom Dougherty, CSNPhilly.com
For Jakub Voracek, there was no rush in signing an extension with the Flyers.
He knew he wanted to stay in Philadelphia and he understood the team had him in its long-term plans.
“I knew something was going to get done,” he said Thursday night in a conference call. “It wasn’t about a time, whether it’d be during the season or during the summer.
“It’s a good thing we came to a deal this quickly, so now we can focus on everything else — good training, good workouts, good training camp. Obviously, it’s good news, but from my standpoint, it didn’t change anything (in) how I would prepare for the season. It’s a great feeling to be secure like that.”
The Flyers on Thursday signed Voracek to an eight-year, $66 million contract extension with an $8.25 million cap hit, which will be tied for the 10th highest in the NHL.
With one year remaining on the right winger’s current four-year contract, general manager Ron Hextall had time before having to extend Voracek but had it as the Flyers’ top priority.
As for the timing, both Voracek and Hextall are pleased to get it out of the way before training camp. Hextall said “it’s really hard to pinpoint definitive timeline” when beginning contract negotiations, but with Voracek, the process reached its tipping point.
“We just got to the point the last few days — we were both tapped out and it was time to make a deal,” the second-year GM said. “I think when neither side is necessarily thrilled with the deal, you probably make a fair deal and you look at the market right now, this is a fair deal for us and a fair deal for Jake.”
Voracek is coming off an 81-point season in which he finished tied with the Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin for fourth in the NHL. He also finished second in the league with 59 assists behind Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom. He led the Flyers in points and assists, while finishing third in goals (22), second in power-play points (33) and third in PP assists (22).
The 25-year-old made his first All-Star team this season and was named to the NHL’s postseason First All-Star Team, the first Flyer to earn first-team honors since John LeClair in 1997-98. He also won the Golden Stick Award as the top Czech hockey player in the world and the Bobby Clarke Trophy as the Flyers’ MVP.
When Voracek’s extension kicks in with the 2016-17 season, the Flyers will have two $8 million-plus players under contract, as they inked Claude Giroux to an eight-year, $66.2 million deal two summers ago.
Giroux’s contract began last season, so he has seven years left. Overall, Voracek will make $200,000 less than Giroux and his cap hit will be $25,000 less than his linemate.
Last season, Voracek and Giroux combined for 154 points to form one of the best 1-2 punches in hockey and Voracek sees the duo improving.
“We can get better because we’ve got better every single year we’ve played together,” he said. “I don’t see a reason why we can’t get better. Most important is to stay at the same level of play for all 82 games and then following, the playoffs. It’s really important.
“We had 10 or 15 games last year when we didn’t produce or didn’t play as good as we did in the beginning of the season and I think it hurt the team a little bit. It’s those kinds of games when they need us the most and we got to make sure we stay hot for 82 games because it’s really important for the team and it’s important for the organization.”
Look at Chicago, who has won three Stanley Cups in the last five years. The Blackhawks have Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, both signed to eight-year deals. Anaheim has Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf signed on eight-year deals. Pittsburgh with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on long-term contracts and now the Flyers with Giroux and Voracek.
Was locking up the two something Hextall had in mind?
“They’re a tandem that I think when you prepare to play the Philadelphia Flyers the first thing you’re looking at is that tandem,” Hextall said.
“They’ve been dynamite together and we expect them to continue on. That was a big part of our emphasis. I think when you’re building a team, you look at pairs and I think the pair of Jake and G is very good, certainly one of the top pairs in the league.”
Going into this season, Voracek will be playing for his third coach since coming to the Flyers in 2011. The Flyers hired Dave Hakstol out of North Dakota on May 18 to take over for Craig Berube, who was fired in May. Hakstol is still an unknown commodity in terms of how he’ll adjust to the NHL level, but Voracek has talked with the new coach.
The Kladno, Czech Republic, native said Hakstol called him a couple times over the summer. In terms of what will be different, the two didn’t get too much into detail, Voracek said.
That will come with training camp. Instead, Hakstol wanted to meet face-to-face with Voracek, even though the winger is spending the summer in Czech Republic.
So one day in June, the Flyers’ bench boss flew to Czech Republic, an approximate eight-hour flight if he left from Philadelphia. For one day and one dinner.
“It meant a lot,” Voracek said. “I told him it was a long trip for one dinner, but it meant a lot to me. It’s better to sit down and talk about things than do it over the phone.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE: See the story on CSNPhilly.com)