What We Learned: What Jake Voracek tells us about usage and player value

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What We Learned: What Jake Voracek tells us about usage and player value
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Late last week, Jakub Voracek signed a hefty contract extension with the Philadelphia Flyers that made him a player with the 10th-highest cap hit in the league (tied with Eric Staal and Ryan Getzlaf).

The initial reaction most people had to that deal probably ranged somewhere between, “Well, Jake Voracek isn't a top-10 player in the league, so that's a dumb contract,” and, “He doesn't deserve as much money as Ryan Getzlaf,” and “He's only getting paid because of Claude Giroux.”

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These are three related but separate ideas, all of which imply that Voracek isn't “worth it” in some way. But even at a baseline, if you believe that's the case, this was one of those contracts that was unavoidable because he puts up points, drives play, and stays healthy. Voracek has 189 points in his last 212 games — good for 10th in the league over that stretch, and 14th in points per game — with a possession share that hasn't dipped below 52.8 percent in the last three seasons. He has also missed exactly zero games in that time. That is a player providing significant value, even if he were just a hop-along to an elite player, which he isn't.

In short, Voracek is very, very good, and the perception that he's a product of playing with Giroux, while understandable, isn't all that fair to him. He and Giroux form a lethal partnership, to be sure, but it isn't because Giroux carries the water.

In his first season with the Flyers, under Peter Laviolette, it seems the club didn't really understand what it had in Voracek. As you can see below, he was protected from tougher competition to some extent. But it appears he was used more as a shutdown guy in the lockout season, the first in which he spent most of his time with Giroux (in truth, the Flyers were just not very good and got pushed around a lot; that actually qualifies as favorable usage relative to the rest of that dreadful team, which averaged 44.5 percent offensive zone starts). And the last two seasons, now a permanent fixture with Giroux, he's been used more or less the same way.

War on Ice
War on Ice

So one has to wonder: Why the uptick in overall points? He was nearly a point-a-game player in the 48-game season, and again last year. It would be easy to dismiss the former as a fluke of the lockout-shortened season in which plenty of weird things happened because of that quick cut-off date, and perhaps even to say that this season might have been a fluke as well. Lightning can occasionally strike twice for a guy who otherwise looks a lot like a perennial 50-point guy, not that there's anything wrong with putting up 50 or so every year.

But the thing is, his production has largely been unaffected on a per-60 basis by playing with Giroux. In some ways, in fact, he's suffered because of it.

War on Ice
War on Ice

That's three straight seasons of declining goalscoring, and it's not really because the Flyers are shooting less when Voracek is on the ice. Shot rates have hovered in the same range all four seasons (with 2013-14's 34.33 per 60 minutes being the major outlier), as have shots against, but it seems that Voracek is simply deferring to Giroux more often. Which is probably good, because Giroux is an elite-level player who's a very effective shooter.

The problem, though, is that Voracek deferring here might not actually be in anyone's best interests. Over the last three years, Voracek put more of his attempts on goal, and scored on a higher percentage of his shots. You could say a lot of that might be luck and some of that might be that his deference to Giroux leads to him only taking the shot himself on higher-quality looks. Some of that might even be as simple as Voracek tapping home rebounds.

I went back and watched every 5-on-5 goal he scored in the last three seasons (here, here, and on NHL.com), and a pretty big chunk of them were actually the result of good work down low, individual efforts to create breakaways, and beautiful shots. (Also of note: he just crushes pucks coming across the ice on the power play; man he has a lot of goals over the last three years from that kind of play.) Did Giroux help create them? A lot of the time, he absolutely did, but anyone who watches these highlights and interprets them as a Crosby-carrying-Kunitz situation isn't paying attention.

But still, it's undeniable that he's scoring less, and it's mostly because he's shooting less. Again, for most players it's probably smart to defer to Giroux, but in Voracek's case, maybe not. His attempt, shot, and goal rates in 2011-12 — when he was playing with Max Talbot and Danny Briere — reflect a more cavalier attitude toward putting the puck on net, and look how things worked out.

War on Ice
War on Ice

This is more like a Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf situation, where both players are just really, really good, and feed off each other rather than one guy's talent making everything happen.

And, for all his faults as a coach (and there are many to discuss), Craig Berube seems to have at least picked up on the value Voracek provides, and rewarded him accordingly. The big takeaway here is that Voracek's scoring numbers haven't changed all that much from when he was playing with Max Talbot and Danny Briere in 2011-12 to playing with Giroux and Michael Raffl or Scott Hartnell most often in the last three years, but what has changed is his time on ice per game at 5-on-5. He's gone from about 11.5 minutes per night at 5-on-5 to more than 14, which is going to result in a lot more goals over the course of the season for a player and line this good.

Were I Dave Hakstol, though, I'd be worried about that downward trend in shot quality, even as these two guys light it up. There's actually some evidence to suggest that both Voracek and Giroux — and by extension, the entire team — would do better going a more Bruins-y route with their two best forwards, by keeping them split up and letting them each dominate their own separate 14ish minutes per game (for a total of 28). It might be wise for a rookie NHL head coach to at least kick the tires on such a roster move when the numbers look like this: 

War on Ice
War on Ice

If anything, it seems you keep them together to protect Giroux's contract from looking worrisome.

Even without the old standard “the cap's going up” argument (because given how things have gone lately, how much can the cap really go up on a year-over-year basis?), it's difficult to argue that Voracek won't at least continue to provide value on this deal for a while to come, and that he has been a bargain for some time. He'll turn 26 in less than two weeks, and that means his decline should start around the midpoint of this new deal, or maybe a little later. But if you're going to argue that Giroux, who's a year older, is worth his money throughout, there's not a lot of basis to be skeptical of Voracek.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are built to win now, as long as you ignore the defensive depth.

Arizona Coyotes: Here's a really good, in-depth look at the Coyotes' drafting record in the first two rounds.  Don Maloney is... pretty good at it.

Boston Bruins: Imagine a team giving one-dimensional Torey Krug bigger money than the $3.4 million he makes now? Good lord.

Buffalo Sabres: This just in: Dan Bylsma is a better coach than Ted Nolan.

Calgary Flames: Calgary might have the deepest blue line in the league with the arrival of Dougie Hamilton. Kris Russell ain't good for your middle pairing, but he's a very solid No. 6, and that's where he should fall on Calgary's depth chart. (That, of course, makes Deryk Engelland a $2.9 million No. 7, but nobody's perfect.)

Carolina Hurricanes: “Should we play Cam Ward a lot?” is not a question a successful NHL team should have to ask itself. Of course you shouldn't. He has a .906 save percentage over the last three seasons.

Chicago: The new Chicago practice rink will be built right across the street from United Center. Convenient.

Colorado Avalanche: Well no kidding the Avs should be in the market for a winger. But who's available? Who do you give up from that roster? These are not easy questions to answer.

Columbus Blue Jackets: If someone were taking bets on David Clarkson's bout with making or breaking his status, I'd bet everything I own... on breaking.

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Dallas Stars: If you'd ever wondered how much work goes into picking songs at your local arena, this is pretty informative.

Detroit Red Wings: There are six Wings prospects at the currently ongoing World Junior orientation camp in Lake Placid. One of them is Dylan Larkin, who should count for, like, three prospects by himself.

Edmonton Oilers: Turns out that improbably low save percentage Ben Scrivens posted last year might have been a fluke. If only some handsome and smart Puck Daddy writer had been saying that for months, the Oilers might not have given up all that good stuff to get Cam Talbot.

Florida Panthers: The Panthers are now going to expand broadcasting in Spanish on local radio stations. Get ready to hear lots of, “Los panteras son malos.”

Los Angeles Kings: It's getting really hard to keep track of all the legal trouble in which various Kings have found themselves this summer.

Minnesota Wild: I bet Erik Haula looks pretty good for a $1 million AAV by the end of this deal.

Montreal Canadiens: Alex Galchenyuk is like, “Sign me up for playing with the guy who has a lot of talent.”

Nashville Predators: Both of Nashville's top two centers are 35. What could possibly go wrong?

New Jersey Devils: Well, uh, don't hold your breath, Cory.

New York Islanders: The Isles have settled with Nassau County over some unpaid costs at the Coliseum. Now it's smell ya later forever.

New York Rangers: What must it be like to watch the Rangers and say to yourself, “Chris Kreider is the best forward on that team,” do you think? Oh, it's like being the kind of person who says things like, “Ovi scores 50 goals a year, let’s say, but Justin Williams performs when it matters most.” So: An idiot.

Ottawa Senators: Seems like the Sens did well for themselves at the draft a while back.

Philadelphia Flyers: What probably meant a lot more to Voracek than Hakstol flying to the Czech Republic for one dinner was getting $66 million.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Last Thursday was the 10-year anniversary of the Sidney Crosby draft. I'd say things have gone pretty well for the organization since then.

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks might soon add either former Leafs assistant Steve Spott or Adam Oates to the coaching staff. Just don't let them draw up anything in the Sharks' own zone.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues were slow before. It's an issue that is often overrated in this league — the Kings were pretty slow and won two Stanley Cups in three years — but an issue nonetheless. Are they any faster now? If they are, it's probably not by much.

Tampa Bay Lightning: A rookie showcase tournament in St. Myers before training camp? Where do I sign up?

Toronto Maple Leafs: That's probably a little too much AAV for Jonathan Bernier but who cares, they're gonna stink anyway and it's only two years.

Vancouver Canucks: In what possible way is this headline true?

Washington Capitals: Tom Wilson fights a lot. Fighting zero should probably be the goal here, but let's start by finding a middle ground.

Winnipeg Jets: Just gonna throw this out there but shouldn't the Tulsa Oilers be affiliated with... some other team? I'm not sure which one, but surely there is someone in the NHL that fits better than Winnipeg. Maybe like some other Canadian team? I don't know.

Gold Star Award

Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images
Photo by Marianne Helm/Getty Images

There has been some talk about Dustin Byfuglien getting

traded to the Bruins. However, it comes from a certain semi-anonymous rumor monger (You Know Who), so as always: Believe it when you see it.

Minus of the Weekend

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

Hold on here. Matt Nieto hasn't

seen any of the Star Wars movies? Log off, kid.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “mrinsane” is on-brand.

To Montreal: Marcus Johansson, Mikkel Boedker

vs

To Washington: Charles Hudon, Brandon Gormley, Kyle Chipchura

vs

To Arizona: Brooks Laich (15% retained), Lars Eller and Jakub Vrana and 2nd pick MTL 2017

Signoff

The objective is to shut your pie-hole and do it.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

(All stats via War On Ice unless otherwise noted.)

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