PHILADELPHIA – Given the uncertainty of the NHL’s financial situation, it’s worth noting the Flyers could have one of the most expensive third lines in the business.
Jake Voracek has four years left on his eight-year, $66-million contract and James van Riemsdyk has three years left on his five-year, $35-million contract.
That means Voracek takes up 10.1 percent of the Flyers’ $80-million payroll and JVR checks in at 8.6 percent.
As for center Nolan Patrick, he’s still waiting to sign his first new contract after his three-year rookie deal expires.
Voracek, a mainstay on the first or second lines through the years, is of particular interest because his role with the team appears to be diminishing.
In addition to third-line status, Voracek also was taken off the first power-play unit by coach Alain Vigneault during training camp. He was replaced by Kevin Hayes.
Whether that move sticks remains to be seen but Vigneault made it clear he expects more from the 31-year-old Czech if he wants to get back to a high-profile position.
“There is no doubt that Jake with his talent level and size can be a force on our team and a force in this league,’’ Vigneault said. “I think his last season was a good season.
“It took him a while to get going. I’d like to say it probably took him the month of October. When he found his stride, our team started to find their stride a little bit. I am hoping that this year right off the jump he is right where he needs to be.’’
Voracek finished the 69-game regular season with just 12 goals, which projects out to about 15 or 16 for a full 82-game slate. In six of the previous seven seasons with the Flyers, he had at least 20 or more.
His numbers were slightly better in the playoffs, with four goals and nine points in 15 games.
During a recent interview, Vigneault seemed to wonder if Voracek was in good enough shape to avoid another slow start.
“It is tough to exactly tell you where his conditioning is because we are not allowed to test players on the ice as we normally do off the ice before because of the format and the rules that were changed a little bit this year,’’ Vigneault said.
If Voracek is not on the power play, there’s little doubt his overall performance could suffer.
Vigneault is hoping Voracek gets off to a quick start with the Patrick line.
“I can only give you my subjective look (about Voracek),’’ Vigneault said. “He looks all right. Time will tell.
“Last year it took him a while to get going, but he did get going and he was playing rather well at the stoppage of play. When we went into the bubble and the playoffs, I thought Jake played well in that first round against Montreal. I thought he wasn’t as affective against the Islanders.’’
Vigneault is known for his motivational skills. This particular case could prove challenging.
“I talked to Jake about this and challenged him about this upcoming year,’’ Vigneault said. “This is a man that has been in the league for some time now and basically, he has won two playoff rounds. One in his first year, not his first year but his first year with the Flyers back in 2011-12 and this past year with me.
“I challenged him on that. The Flyers haven’t been in the playoffs in back-to-back seasons since I think 2010-11 and 2011-12. So making the playoffs is non-negotiable here. We are getting in. It is going to be a challenge, but we are getting in. To do that, we need Jake to get his game to that top level.’’
As a leader on the team, Voracek has to get back to that 20-goal level and be a force for the Flyers to succeed.
“I think there are a lot of young players who are pushing him,’’ Vigneault said. “He is going to have to earn that ice time and he has been able to do that last few years. But I also want him to challenge himself. We are not in this to win one round and if our expectations are to win, he knows that he is going to have to be a top performer in the role that he is given. Our expectations of Jake are very high.’’