Jake Voracek didn’t mince words or sugarcoat them.
When questioned about whether or not he’s concerned that General Manager Ron Hextall might shake up the core of the team, he was, in no certain terms, blunt.
“We have what, won one series against Pittsburgh [in 2012] in six years, right?” he said last week as players cleaned out their lockers. “It’s not good enough. We’re in our prime years and have to make sure that we step up our game, get this team to the playoffs and start winning series. If we don’t, it is going to get broken up.”
The core of captain Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Voracek has been together for almost six years. During the stretch, the Flyers have made the playoffs only twice and have missed out on the postseason in three of the last five seasons.
It’s fair to ask: is the front office’s confidence in the group waning? Well, they didn’t exactly get a ringing endorsement.
“Will it stay together? I don’t know,” Hextall said at his end of the year news conference. “If we’d have won a couple rounds of playoffs there’s obviously a better chance of them staying together. Does that mean it’s not going to stay together? I don’t know what’s going to come our way.”
The core isn’t getting any younger, either. Giroux turns 30 next season, and Simmonds and Voracek are in their late 20s. Schenn and Couturier will be 26 and 25, respectively, and just entering the prime of their careers.
“When you don’t make the playoffs, when you don’t meet your expectations, change might happen,” Giroux said. “But at the end of the day, it’s not up to us. For us, it’s to keep working. We like our team, we like our group.”
While the core will likely get at least one more year together, the supporting cast should look a bit different next year. A handful of Phantoms, such as defensemen Sam Morin and Robert Hagg, and forward Oskar Lindblom, are expected to join the team. Plus, Jordan Weal, who joined the Flyers late as a call-up, and Valterri Filppula, who came via a trade in March, will get full seasons with the Flyers.
“We’ll probably have a little bit of turnover,” Simmonds said. “There are a lot of younger guys in Lehigh that are high on the radar and they’re really good players.”
Will it be enough, though?
“I really think that we’re not that far off,” Giroux said.
For the sake of keeping the core together, he better be right.
“Am I happy with the team? No, I’m not,” Hextall said. “How can you be, right? We missed the playoffs and, again, we were capable. I don’t know one way or the other whether there’s going to be change.”