VOORHEES, N.J. – Just over a year ago, Jake Voracek sat in the very same chair at the Skate Zone and warned that another season like the one which just ended might have dire consequences.
He was referring to the Flyers’ inability to make the playoffs and continuing a streak of five straight campaigns without winning a playoff series.
Fast forward to yesterday, when Voracek faced the media once again, but this time his spirits were somewhat brighter.
The Flyers made a much better showing this season, putting together a 98-point season and giving the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins all they could handle.
If you had said back on Dec. 4, when the Flyers were at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, that they would make the postseason and take the Pens to the third period of Game 6 tied, people probably would have laughed.
So Voracek, who speculated last year that this core of this team might get broken up if it didn’t start doing something, sang a somewhat different tune on Wednesday as the Flyers cleaned out their lockers.
“The team this year compared to the teams six years ago, four years ago, two years ago, it’s different,’’ Voracek said. “I think everybody knows that we have a lot of young guys, that will be really good players for a real long time.
“TK’s (Travis Konecny) progress, Travis Sanheim, Ghost (Shayne Gostisbehere), Provy (Ivan Provorov), Nolan Patrick was incredible in the playoffs and the second half of the year in my opinion. I think there are a lot of good pieces that are going to be even better next year, and for us older guys to be better next year than we were this year, and obviously be better in the playoffs than we were this year.’’
With the exception of a few potential unrestricted free agents such as Valtteri Filppula, Matt Read, Brandon Manning, Johnny Oduya and goalie Petr Mrazek, Voracek just might get his wish to see a similar roster when training camp opens in September.
There is speculation the Flyers will add another veteran defenseman to the lineup and possibly a proven scorer, but general manager Ron Hextall isn’t, as he reminds everyone so often, going to mortgage his future for a quick fix.
Voracek liked what he saw of the Flyers this season.
“We (the core group) have been together for a long time,’’ Voracek said. “Obviously right now Simmer (Wayne Simmmonds) wasn’t healthy, I had a career year, Ghost had a career year, G (Claude Giroux), Provy was very good for second year in the league, which is always the toughest, he was really good.
“If you’re going to repeat that kind of year, it’s going to be good, we’ve got to make the playoffs, but like I said we’ve got to be better in the playoffs, which wasn’t easy to do. In some kind of way, Pittsburgh showed us how to win the games. Give them props for whatever they did, because there were times of games when we were better, especially Game 6, and they stayed calm and they knew they were going to get their opportunities and have the chance to win the game, and I think that’s one of the reasons why they won the series, because they were more experienced.’’
Shayne Gostisbehere also believes that the Flyers should remain patient, and to borrow a strategy from another local professional sports team, trust the process.
It’s all about gaining valuable experience
“We all gained experience, that experience that Provy, Patty (Patrick), TK, all these young guys got. . .that’s huge,’’ Gostisbehere said.
“The difference from our playoff series a couple years ago (vs. Washington) until now, we were playing a two-time defending champion it’s a lot different you can see why they are where they are because they have that experience and the way they manage games, the way they play home and away you can see it and that’s huge experience for our younger guys.’’
Is this core group of players good enough?
“I think we could win with our core,’’ Gostisbehere said. “We have a great core, just not only age wise, but guys in general, not only on the ice but leaders in our room and you want the core to stay together.’’
Captain Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier both believe the Flyers have what it takes with the players they have to eventually contend for a championship. Especially with the kids coming up.
“I think you look at the young players, they got better as the season went on,’’ Giroux said. “Their confidence went higher. Nolan Patrick, he got better as the season went on.’’
Couturier had a career year. The sky could be the limit for the Selke Trophy finalist. He likes what he sees around him.
“I think we grew as a group this year,’’ Couturier said. “We took some strides. All these young guys have a lot of talent, a lot of potential, a great future. It’s definitely exciting to be part of this group.’’