Boy, this is one of the most exciting offseasons in recent Philly sports history, at the very least for the Flyers. Only other one that comes to mind is the acquisition of J.T. Realmuto and Bryce Harper in Feb. 2019 for the Phillies. I think the amount of activity and important players being added warrants that level of hype. In Flyer terms, the most exciting offseason since Jeff Carter and Mike Richards got shipped out.
Yesterday, the Flyers completed their third trade in three days when they engaged in a one-for-one player deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The orange and black sent winger Jake Voracek and his $8.25 million cap hit back to the team that originally drafted him. In return, they acquired winger Cam Atkinson.
This swap provided arguably the biggest retool to the roster so far, being that Voracek was a part of the true “core” that started being broken up a few seasons ago with the departure of Wayne Simmonds. These kinds of trades have to act as some sort of message to the locker room, whether that is intended or not. I mean Jake and Claude Giroux are best friends, Shayne Gostisbehere was a great teammate etc. Now one of our top offensive players and assistant captains is leaving. Chuck Fletcher has not been messing around.
First, we will look at the player leaving Philadelphia after 10 seasons with the club. I’m sure there were a good number of fans rejoicing over the fact they will never witness another Voracek turnover leading to an odd man rush the other way. However, Jake had a solid and respectable career here despite the overall struggles the Flyers as a team faced. The criticism was not always as loud as it has been in recent years regarding him as well. Through his first four seasons in Philly (2011-’12 to 2014-’15) he only missed four regular season games. He racked up 238 points in those 290 games, with an All-Star appearance and 81 points in 2014-’15. Up to that point we did not visualize this team floundering with on and off playoff appearances, and Voracek had 14 points in 18 playoff games in that same duration.
Then he signs his 8-year, $66 million contract. He was 25 at the time and entering his prime. The expectations for his point production and more so his goal-scoring I think were never really met from that point on. For example, the 22-goal mark Jake hit in that 2014-’15 season was never met again. Just seeing that alone is kind of disappointing, and that little stat sort of represents how a good portion of the fanbase began to feel about him from that point. That can happen when your goal total the next season splits in half (11) and you experience a 26-point differential from your All-Star season (55). That’s not going to do you any favors in Philadelphia after just signing a new expensive deal.
“Scoracek” did score a good amount of points during his 10-year stay. In 707 regular season games, Jake scored 177 goals and tallied 427 assists for 604 points (.854 points per game). That is good for fifth all-time in assists in Flyers history. Even though he could be frustrating at times, he was always honest with the city and the fans, and his passing ability will absolutely be missed.
There should be no doubt if Jake Voracek is a good hockey player. Fletcher had stated they were looking to move him and he had been left unprotected in the expansion draft, so this isn’t too surprising of an outcome.
Now, in return the Flyers receive a player who appears very excited to be here in Cam Atkinson. You can’t go wrong with wearing a Gritty t-shirt in your first talk with the media.
Atkinson played with Kevin Hayes at Boston College, and is close friends with fan-favorite and current Flyers analyst Scott Hartnell. You could feel Atkinson’s excitement in his interview, and for a player who will play a key role in this team, that excites me as a fan. You want people that want to be here, especially the top guys.
A sixth-round pick in 2008, Atkinson carved out a good career on a Blue Jacket team that made the playoffs five out of his 10 seasons. He was a +17 player, he scored 213 goals and had 402 points in 627 regular season games. The 5-foot-8 winger was also effective on both the powerplay and penalty kill in Columbus, scoring 44 powerplay goals and an impressive 16 shorthanded goals.
In addition to being a better two-way player than Voracek, he provides more of a shooting mentality, which this group needed. In the last full NHL season in 2018-’19, Atkinson had a career year across the board with 41 goals, 28 assists and 69 points in 80 games. If there is any concern with the trade, it’s that Atkinson’s goal totals have dropped since then to 12 goals in 44 games in 2019-’20 and 15 in 56 games last season.
It is worth saying that as much as the Flyers struggled last season (25-23-8), Columbus had a harder time (18-26-12). It is possible Atkinson bounces back on a team that has been making moves to contend. You may not look at Cam Atkinson as a bonafide “sniper,” but he should be good for at least 20-25 goals on a better team. In the NHL, you do not just score 41 goals in a season by being lucky. His cap hit of $5.875 million also helps add more flexibility now, more cap space and more options before free agency is never a bad thing.
Speaking of free agency, Fletcher and the Flyers now have made several moves before the window even opens. Turns out that this has all been a part of Fletcher’s game plan. Another move made to free up some cap space, which can be used to bring back depth pieces such as Sam Morin or a solid backup goaltender. Or, potentially other big targets. At this point anything could happen.
I just cannot see any reason why this offseason would not get people excited, just on the basis that this is going to be a new look team this year. With the way the past week alone has gone, I am expecting more and that is a fun feeling to have.