Photo by Amy Irvin/38 Photography
In the wake of a multi-game scoring slump as the Flyers neared the end of November, Dave Hakstol decided to shake things up in a big way. Since that day, Jakub Voracek has spent the majority of his even strength time playing with Chris Vandevelde and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. This has justifiably been met with some criticism. Voracek, one of the league’s top offensive players just a year ago, simply does not belong with players like that. At the same time, the Flyers have been winning games, leaving Hakstol reluctant to make any significant changes. Let’s take a look at what is working, what isn’t, and what the best decision is moving forward.
(All charts in this post are from War-On-Ice.com)
THE BAD: VORACEK STRUGGLING, GOING TO WASTE
Part of the reason that Hakstol made such an impactful move in the first place was that things weren’t working out. The Flyers were not scoring and Voracek was struggling to match his high level of production from a year ago. There wasn’t much to lose by shaking things up.
9 games later, this experiment is unsurprisingly working out poorly for Voracek. The already struggling forward does not have an even strength point since his demotion on the 23rd. His production was disappointing before, but now it is nonexistent. In addition, Voracek is not getting the chances that he was before. Here’s a look at a 5 game rolling average of Voracek’s individual scoring chances and shots on goal. It’s pretty easy to tell when he moved down in the lineup.
When looking at production only, it doesn’t look like much has changed, but that couldn’t be more wrong.Early in the season, Voracek was producing scoring chances and shots on goal at a fairly elite rate. It was simply a matter of waiting for the shots to start going in. It isn’t that way anymore. Now let’s look at his time on ice at even strength.
Not much of an explanation needed there. If things stand the way they are for Voracek, there isn’t much of a reason to think that he’ll come anywhere close to the production that the Flyers need from him. That’s not acceptable.
THE GOOD: FLYERS ARE MORE BALANCED, WINNING GAMES
Alright, so we’ve seen pretty clearly that Voracek’s demotion is not going to ‘wake him up’. But what about the Flyers as a whole? They’ve gone 6-2-1 in the 9 games since Voracek moved down in the lineup. Here is how their possession numbers have changed.
That’s a good thing, right? There are certainly other things at play (Ghost, Medvedev), but it’s still eye-opening. There are some more good things here too. Chris Vandevelde and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare how have an elite winger who can carry them on a line that will give them way more ice time than they’ve grown accustomed to. Brayden Schenn, who was absolutely horrid early in the season, now gets to play with Claude Giroux and Michael Raffl. That erases what had been a significant liability early on. Here’s what it’s done to the close possession rates of those players.
No doubt that this move has, at the very least, made the Flyers a more balanced team. It has been a long time since the Flyers have had three lines that could routinely hold their own in the possession battle. They have that now. So what is the answer?
I still believe that the Flyers will be at their best if something changes here. Jakub Voracek was a top 5 scorer in the NHL last season, and it’s simply unacceptable to have his ice time dwindling while he plays with replacement level guys.
At the same time, I hope that this has opened Dave Hakstol’s mind to the possibility that this team could be at it’s best with Giroux and Voracek playing on different lines. The Flyers routinely struggled with forward depth last year, and it hasn’t been as much of a problem lately. Hakstol could do much worse than he has here. It has had a positive effect on both the possession charts and the scoresheets.
Looking at Voracek’s individual numbers makes this look pretty clear cut. Looking at the team numbers makes you think a little bit harder. If Dave Hakstol can find a way to get Voracek more involved while maintaining the newfound balance of the lineup, it would go a long way towards getting the most out of a decent group of forwards.