That big question about the future of the Flyers’ leadership appears to have been answered.
The dismantling began on Saturday when general manager Chuck Fletcher sent veteran right wing Jake Voracek to the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for right wing Cam Atkinson.
Having missed the playoffs in five of the last nine seasons, there were rumblings about the core veterans’ group, which included Voracek, Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier.
Now one-third of that group is gone, part of sweeping changes Fletcher has made, including the recent trades of Philippe Myers, Nolan Patrick, Shayne Gostisbehere and Robert Hagg.
The Columbus trade was an even swap. The Blue Jackets will pick up all of Voracek’s $8.25-million salary cap hit while the Flyers owe Atkinson $5.87 million per season.
Atkinson is 32 years old. Voracek turns 32 on Aug. 15.
Reached on a media Zoom call in Columbus, Atkinson sported a T-shirt with a likeness of Gritty, the Flyers’ infamous mascot.
Did he know a move was coming?
“Yeah, it (the T-shirt) is my wife’s,’’ Atkinson said with a chuckle. “We were visiting Scotty Hartnell’s and got it there. So we’re ready for this. Couldn’t be more excited.’’
Fletcher said Atkinson provides the Flyers with more than just hockey talent but intangibles like commitment and compete levels.
“He loves to play the game of hockey,’’ Fletcher said during a media Zoom calla after the conclusion of Saturday’s NHL Entry Draft. “Tremendous energy, he’s a player who can contribute every which-way. He’s been one of the better five-on-five goal scorers in the league. Elite penalty killer. There’s really not much he can’t do.’’
Atkinson has appeared in 627 games over 10 NHL seasons, all with the Blue Jackets. He has 213 goals and 189 assists for 402 points over his career, including a 41-goal season in the last full NHL campaign of 2018-19. During the 2020-21 season, Atkinson scored 15 goals and added 19 assists for 34 points in 59 games and was tied for second in the NHL with four shorthanded goals.
In his career-best 2018-19 campaign, Atkinson tied for sixth in the NHL with his 41 goals, while his 295 shots on goal ranked eighth. He is a two-time NHL All-Star (2017, 2019) and has scored at least 20 goals in each of six NHL seasons in which he’s appeared in 65 or more games.
Atkinson sounded pleased by the big change in his career.
“Obviously a mix of emotions, it’s my kid’s third birthday,’’ Atkinson said. “Celebrating that and another reason (going to Flyers) as well. I’ve been here a long time, I love Columbus. But I couldn’t be more excited to join the Flyers’ organization. I personally think I’m going to fit in very well.’’
Why is that?
“I know a couple guys on the team already,’’ he said. “Special teams I think I’ll help out as well. I think I fit the mold pretty well.’’
Columbus is in full rebuild mode – the latest big move involving star defenseman Seth Jones getting sent to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Jackets are definitely going younger while the Flyers are adding some veterans, especially on defense.
“You can see what (GM) Chuck Fletcher and management. . .what they’re trying to do, bringing in certain guys,’’ Atkinson said. “(Ryan) Ellis, (Rasmus) Ristolainen. . .there have been guys on that team who have been around a while and sometimes change is best. I think my energy alone is really going to help the team.’’
Atkinson played with Flyers center Kevin Hayes at Boston College. He’s also friends with James van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux and ex-Flyer Hartnell.
A 5-foot-8, 175-pound native of Riverside, Connecticut, Atkinson was selected by Columbus in the sixth round (157th overall) of the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. He made his NHL debut on Oct. 7, 2011 following a three-year career at Boston College, where he won a national championship in 2010 and was a Hobey Baker Award finalist in 2011.
Will it be a perk being able to play closer to home? At least his family can train down to Philly to see their son on friendly ice rather than have to fly to Columbus.
“Yeah, my family resides in Greenwich, so it’s a pretty quick Amtrak ride,’’ Atkinson said. “They couldn’t be more excited about this opportunity as well. I’m closer to home and for me, family is the most important thing.’’
Voracek was acquired by the Flyers from Columbus in the Jeff Carter trade on June 23, 2011.has appeared in 727 games for the Flyers over the last 10 seasons, posting 177 goals and 427 assists for 604 points during that time.
He also added 27 points in 45 Stanley Cup playoff games with the Flyers. Voracek’s 427 assists rank fifth in Flyers’ history, as do his 162 power-play assists. He represented the Flyers at the 2015 NHL All-Star Game and was a first-team NHL All-Star following that season, when he recorded a career-best 81 points (22 goals). Voracek won several Flyers team awards during his tenure, most notably the Bobby Clarke Trophy as the Flyers most valuable player on two occasions in 2013 and 2015.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Jake,’’ Fletcher said. “He’s one of the best players in franchise history. It’s definitely a mutual thing. It’s time for Jake to go to a new team. It’s as simple as that.’’