2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Part 2 of the forwards

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Part 2 of the forwards

We conclude our series reviewing the Flyers' 2016-17 roster with the second part of evaluating the forwards. You can find Part 1 here, as well the goaltending here and defensemen here.

Matt Read
Age: Turns 31 on June 14
Stats: 63 GP; 10G, 9A, 19 Pts.; plus-3; 13:46
Cap hit: $3.625 million

No Flyers forward has been more disappointing than Read during his six seasons here. Signed out of college, he scored 24 goals and had 47 points his first season and hasn't come close to matching those numbers again. Read broke his right forearm late in the season and missed the final five games. He missed 11 games earlier in the season with an oblique injury. He has averaged fewer than 10 goals over the past three seasons, which doesn't cut it with his salary. Will undoubtedly be exposed in the expansion draft.

Brayden Schenn
Age: Turns 26 on Aug. 22
Stats: 79 GP; 25G, 30A, 55 Pts.; minus-13; 17:48
Cap hit: $5.125 million

Often criticized for not fitting in or not delivering enough offensively, Schenn has demonstrated continued improvement every season as a Flyer. He was four points under last season's point total, yet among all forwards except Wayne Simmonds, he was the closest Flyer to having a season as good or better than his previous season. Tied for the NHL lead in power-play goals (17). Has a long way to go at 5-on-5 in terms of goal production. After years of being tried at various positions under three head coaches, it appears the organization has finally settled on Schenn as a winger, not center. And like so many others on this team, coach Dave Hakstol used him all over the lineup. If GM Ron Hextall decides to break up his core this summer, Schenn offers the most possibilities for a trade given his offensive output at a young age.

Wayne Simmonds
Age: Turns 29 on Aug. 26
Stats: 82 GP; 31G, 23A, 54 Pts.; minus-18; 18:58
Cap hit: $3.975 million

Led the Flyers in goal scoring for the fourth consecutive season and was right behind Schenn in power-play goals with 16. Simmonds was unquestionably the club's MVP this season and many feel he should be wearing the "C," because he's often the guy on the ice intervening with the officials. He offers the most bang for your buck on the Flyers. By his own admission, Simmonds is the "bad" cop to Claude Giroux's "good" cop. He plays a hard, power forward game despite his skinny legs. If he were an NBA player, he'd be a shooting guard. Simmonds wears his heart on his jersey and sometimes avoided the media this season after games because he was fearful of saying something he would later regret. Every Flyers club has had at least one player who defines orange and black and Simmonds is this team's rep. Was very effective on Valtteri Filppula's line with Jordan Weal this season. Like Giroux, however, Simmonds can't afford to be a minus player next season.

Chris VandeVelde
Age: Turned 30 on March 15
Stats: 81 GP; 6G, 9A, 15 Pts.; minus-5; 11:33
Cap hit: UFA who earned $712,500

For whatever reason, VandeVelde was totally immune from being benched by Hakstol this past season while others suffered at the drop of a puck. It wasn't until the very last game that Hakstol sat him. The fact is, VandeVelde tended toward disappearing in many games this season and his overall effectiveness with Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on the penalty kill was muted because he simply didn't generate shorthanded chances like he had done in the past. Although he tied his career high with the Flyers in terms of points, it's unlikely the club re-signs him. The Flyers have too many grinders and need scoring at this point with others waiting in line. 

Jakub Voracek
Age: Turns 28 on Aug. 15
Stats: 82 GP; 20G, 41A, 61 Pts.; minus-24; 19:05 
Cap hit: $8.25 million

The only number fans are going to remember from Voracek's lost season is "minus-24." That was worst on the Flyers. Since signing that gargantuan, eight-year, $66 million contract in 2015, the Czech winger has had two poor seasons in succession. Everyone -- himself included -- assumed a bounce-back year this past season, and while Voracek had 20 goals and more points -- five more than 2015-16 -- he remained well short of what he should have provided for his salary. This truly was a season in which the Flyers' big guns -- Simmonds and Schenn being the exceptions -- came up fairly lame. Even more distressing, however, was Voracek's being bounced off the second power-play unit, and not finding a set line. Truth is, his best production came with Michael Raffl and Giroux -- 24 points. He had six goals playing right wing on Giroux's line and six playing there on Sean Couturier's line. Hakstol needs to find Voracek a permanent line.

Jordan Weal
Age: Turned 25 on April 15
Stats: 23 GP; 8G, 4A, 12 Pts.; plus-4; 14:18 
Cap hit: UFA who earned $650,000

Weal was more or less a "throw-in" as part of the Luke Schenn-Vinny Lecavalier deal with L.A. in January 2016. He got his chance this season when Travis Konecny suffered his knee and ankle injury in February against St. Louis. The Flyers discovered that Weal can play. And play above his size, with grit and skill, and an attitude that resembles a pit bull gnarling on a puck. Weal could get a contract close to or right at $2 million from someone this summer if he elects free agency. Hextall says he wants to re-sign Weal but isn't sure when. Weal can't be exposed because he's a free agent. Yet under the expansion draft rules, Vegas will have a 48-hour window prior to the expansion draft to sign free agents. Weal would be a perfect player for Vegas GM George McPhee to sign and grow with an expansion club. If Hextall signs him before that window opens, he will have to protect Weal on June 21. If he waits, he is potentially competing with a lot of clubs. Filppula's line with him and Simmonds was very good in the second half. Hextall has no choice but to re-sign this kid. The Flyers are already lacking in the skill/creativeness department and Weal provides both. 

Dale Weise
Age: Turns 29 on Aug. 5
Stats: 64 GP; 8G, 7A, 15 Pts.; plus-1; 12:52 
Cap hit: $2.35 million

Essentially, Weise was signed last summer to replace Ryan White. Things began poorly for him -- a three-game suspension and no goals through the club's first 20 games. His game never picked up until late in the second half when Hextall admitted he was disappointed in the production he had gotten from him. That's when Weise came alive -- after sitting six straight games -- with some excellent play on Couturier's line with Schenn. Weise scored six goals with four assists (10 points) over his final 14 games. He was vocal and noticeably moody much of the second half because of his benchings (twice for multiple games) and lack of production. It didn't seem to have an impact in the room. The Flyers need more from him next season. Will be exposed in the expansion draft.

Jakub Voracek: Flyers' core could be 'blown up' if things don't change

Jakub Voracek: Flyers' core could be 'blown up' if things don't change

Jakub Voracek struggled to find answers.

He wasn't sure why the Flyers saw such a goal-scoring plummet after the first two months of the season. He didn't know exactly what this team needs moving forward.

In fact, Voracek said "I don't know" three times during his end-of-the-season press conference last Tuesday. He looked worn down but pensive after just finishing his 82nd game of the season. The 2016-17 campaign was still fresh but disappointingly done.

But Voracek did know one thing. He knew darn well the history of the Flyers' current core and what's next if the script doesn't soon change.

"We're in our prime years," Voracek said. "We've got to make sure that we step up our game and get this team to the playoffs and start winning some series because if we don't, it's going to get blown up and we all know it."

The Flyers are watching the playoffs for the third time in the last five years, marking their worst five-season stretch since 1989-90 to 1993-94, when they missed the postseason all five times. The Flyers have not won a playoff series since 2011-12.

Voracek is well aware.

"There's no reason not to believe in ourselves," Voracek said. "It's tough to tell you something else. We have what, won one [playoff] series vs. Pittsburgh in six years? Right? If I'm not mistaken. It's not good enough."

General manager Ron Hextall laughed two days later when he heard of Voracek's comments.

"Jake said that?" he asked. "Jake's a hockey player. Jake can play hockey."

Hextall, comfortable with the veterans in place, said this is the team's leadership group -- no one is coming in here to change or add to it.

"We expect that of them," Hextall said. "They're not 20 years old. They're mid-to-late 20s those guys, absolutely, they should be the leaders of our team."

The Flyers' core of Voracek, Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier welcomes that responsibility. All five are under 30 years old and see some of their best years ahead.

That doesn't mean the pressure isn't on -- those five feel it. They know things can change quickly in the NHL, just how the league is turning younger and younger.

"Of course," Giroux said. "When you don't make the playoffs, when you don't meet your expectations, change might happen. But at the end of the day, it's not up to us. For us, it's to keep working, keep doing what we're doing. We like our team, we like our group. We didn't really change from last year."

Voracek sounded like a player growing impatient with the results. Hextall and the front office have practiced plenty of patience. Voracek believes it's time to reward them for it.

"It's a time for us to take that kind of responsibility," Voracek said. "G's 29, he's not a young guy anymore. I'll be 28, Simmer's going to be 29. It's the time for us to take over I think. We've been around for a while." 

Giroux is the oldest of the five aforementioned players, a group that has been intact since the 2011-12 season. The Flyers' captain turns 30 years old in January. He took another step back in 2016-17 -- both health and production wise.

The Flyers see a much stronger Giroux next season. It still all starts with the nine-year Flyer.

"He's going to get some time to get some rest, get some training," Simmonds said. "He'll come back healthy. Just the type of player and the type of competitor he is, he'll be back 100 percent."

The organization's abundance of youth is a reason why the Flyers still see promise in their core.

"Overall, we have some young guys getting their first steps here in the league," Couturier said. "I think it's just growing as a team, more mature as a player. I think everyone needs to step up next year and be better."

The Flyers finished eight points behind last year's team, which snuck into the playoffs on the second-to-last day of the regular season.

Does the fear of change ever sink in?

"It's not my decision," Couturier said. "I can't control that. I like our core. Next year, all these guys are back and we're a pretty good team. It's just little things during the year, a few points that we let slip basically cost us. We've just got to be better and get more wins."

Voracek, always honest and transparent, was harshest on himself. It was an early sign of leadership from the core facing increasing pressure.

"As a player, you've got to take pride in plus-minus, and I'm minus-24 -- it's embarrassing," Voracek said. "It goes on a stretch and you have to take pride in that."

Flyers' Jakub Voracek, Hurricanes' Bryan Bickell share bond bigger than hockey -- fight to end Multiple Sclerosis

Flyers' Jakub Voracek, Hurricanes' Bryan Bickell share bond bigger than hockey -- fight to end Multiple Sclerosis

When Carolina Hurricanes forward Bryan Bickell last stepped onto this 200-foot-by-85-foot sheet of ice in South Philadelphia on Oct. 22, his body was failing him and he didn't have a clue why.

His hands, once strong enough to sport three heavy, diamond-encrusted Stanley Cup championship rings from his Chicago Blackhawks days, were now struggling to function with a lightweight composite hockey stick.

His feet, which once guided him to becoming a skilled power forward, weren't working the way they once did.

Such instinctive hockey activities that had come so naturally since his days growing up in the northern frontier of Orono, Ontario -- a suburb about a 45-minute drive east of Toronto -- were now so inexplicably challenging.

That October night, when the steel blades of his skates left the Wells Fargo Center ice -- the same ice upon which he lifted Lord Stanley's cup for the first time -- never did Bickell, a 10-year veteran, think the end of his NHL career could be realistically near.

"I would wake up and the one side of my body would just be in pain," Bickell said. "And I didn't know why. I didn't know what was going on."

Not all that long ago, the Flyers' Jakub Voracek lived through a similar personal situation, although from afar.

Voracek, the Flyers' playmaking winger, was forced to sit back and watch, his skilled hands basically knotted behind his back with an imaginary tether, as his sister, Petra, struggled with mysterious pain and difficulty performing life's simplest tasks.

Though Bickell and Voracek don't know each other well personally, the two players now know they share a bond that goes beyond any blue line or goal line in any rink around the world -- the fight against multiple sclerosis.

On Nov. 11, three weeks after the Flyers topped the Hurricanes, 6-3, at the Wells Fargo Center, Bickell, 31, publicly announced he had been diagnosed with MS, dealing a stunning gut punch to the hockey world.

Two years prior, then-39-year-old Petra, after seeing world-renowned doctor Pavel Kolar in the Voracek family's native Czech Republic, was struck with the same life-altering MS diagnosis.

"[Dr. Kolar] checked her hip and he didn't like something about it," Voracek said. "So he did a CT scan of her brain right away. That's how they found out.

"Thank God she went to him because she could've been treating something else for two or three years. [Dr. Kolar] called me and broke the news to me. I called my dad right away. So obviously, that was a tough time to find out."

According to the National MS Society, MS is a disorder during which the body's central nervous system (CNS) -- the brain, spinal cord and optic nerve fibers -- is attacked after an abnormal response by the body's immune system. Those attacks focus on the myelin and nerve fibers in the CNS, creating a build-up of scar tissue that distorts nerve impulses to and from the brain and spinal cord. The MS Society estimates approximately 2.3 million people worldwide have the condition.

The University of Pennsylvania's Multiple Sclerosis Center estimates roughly 450,000 people in the United States suffer from MS. The center also says the disease usually begins between the ages of 20 and 40 and that it's twice as common in women as it is in men.

But facts and figures aside, here's the disorder in simpler terms: scar tissue forms on the nerves of the brain and spinal cord, causing a variety of symptoms including pain ranging from minimum to debilitating, numbness and tingling, weakness, fatigue, vision and equilibrium issues and cognitive problems, just to name a few symptoms. If left untreated, the results can be crippling.

Thus explains the pain Bickell was going through. Thus also explains the pain Voracek's sister was going through.

While many of the symptoms are seen outwardly, the scariest factor is that the parts of the body most affected are the most important -- the brain, spinal cord and the rest of the CNS.

"At the beginning at first, you know what it's about, but you don't know exactly what it is," Voracek said. "So you start learning through the process what it's about and how it affects your life.

"It's not easy. There's only so much you can do. It's tough. It sucks, but that's the way life goes. Life comes and goes with bad and good things. It is what it is.

"The first thing I told my sister was, 'It could be worse.' When you think about it, there's people dying three months after they have cancer or something like that. On the other hand, we've been lucky it's not something worse. But on another hand, it's going to be a long, hard road."

It's a road Bickell has been on for the last several years, although his condition was diagnosed only a few months ago.

The 6-foot-4, strong-as-an-ox 223-pounder was at the top of his game with the Blackhawks from 2010-2011 to 2014-15 when he totaled 60 goals and 67 assists.

He'll forever be remembered in Windy City folklore for his memorable 2013 playoff run that was capped by the tying goal with 1:16 left in Game 6 of that year's Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins. The Blackhawks scored 17 seconds later and lifted the Cup for the second time in four seasons.

A few years later, Bickell wasn't his usual productive self on the ice. Chicago, always desperate for salary cap space, sent Bickell down to AHL Rockford after 23 games with just two assists to start 2015-16.

But Bickell really wasn't feeling like himself off the ice and was diagnosed with vertigo during the 2015 playoffs. Once the calendar flipped to 2016, Bickell was then diagnosed with an ocular issue. But he fought through and returned to Chicago for two games in late last April, going pointless in both.

The cap-crunching Blackhawks dealt Bickell and Teuvo Teravainen to Carolina last summer in exchange for two draft picks. A classic salary dump. But it turned out to be a classic salary dump that became a twisted blessing in disguise for Bickell, as it led to a much-sought-after final answer.

Still not feeling like himself seven games into the season, he was pulled off the ice by the Hurricanes to see doctors. The blanks can be filled in from there.

A physically gifted NHL player revered by many as a larger-than-life figure now faced the harsh reality of the game he loves leaving him way before he was ready.

But he also now faced the frightening reality of a potentially crippling disorder haunting he and his family for the rest of his natural life.

The news hit the NHL world hard, but especially Voracek, who has such a deep, personal connection to both the anguish and uncertainty Bickell was going through.

"I've never met Bryan, but when I found out he has MS, you think about all the things and how it must be for a professional athlete to deal with," the Flyers' winger said.

"Playing hockey, it's something you've been doing all your life. He's such a young guy. He's in his prime years basically, still. With something like that, it can't be easy to deal with."

Petra's 2015 diagnosis spurned Voracek into action. He was getting restless with just looking on as Petra dealt with all that MS dishes out. He figured if he was unable to help physically in the here and now, he wanted to do something that could make an impact in the long-term battle against this foe.

But this foe is unlike any hockey player he'd ever punched in the mouth during one of his NHL fights. This had to be a unique tactic that could not only help bring down MS but could also bring care and joy to the people in the Czech Republic who are tasked with the condition's daily battles. According to a 2015 study, roughly 13,000 people in the Czech Republic have MS.

So the wheels in Voracek's head got to spinning and an idea began to spawn to life.

In September 2015, the Jakub Voracek Foundation started blazing its trail in the effort to end MS once and for all.

"It's been great. We help a lot of people," Voracek said of the foundation, which Petra runs during the season while Jake is working his day job with the Flyers. "Every once in a while, my sister sends me emails from the people that we help. It just makes your day better. Thanks for that, thanks for this. Thanks for helping find the right medication.

"People can't get certain things they need because the insurance only covers a certain amount of people. There are a lot of people, especially in the Czech Republic -- the medication they need, they're out of it by April or May and there's nothing you can do until the next January. In the span of that eight months, that disease can spread big time and can get as painful as it gets. We try to help those people that don't have the opportunity to get those meds or the wheelchairs or the stuff like that they need."

The foundation is heavily involved in MS fundraising efforts in the Czech Republic. Last offseason, Voracek and the foundation hosted a soccer tournament that featured Czech athletes and celebrities. They'll be doing that again this summer on June 24.

Starting last season, Voracek has pledged $1,000 to the foundation for each point he records. Last year, he posted 11 goals and 44 assists, so the total came out to $55,000. That rose to $61,000 after 20 goals and 41 assists this season. Do the math and that's $116,000 Voracek has donated over the last two seasons.

Voracek, who inked a long-term extension with the Flyers two offseasons ago, said it's something he'll do every season for the rest of his career.

"I think, as athletes -- let's be honest, we make good money. Why not? We might as well do it," said Voracek, a recent first-time father who one day envisions bringing the foundation to the U.S. as he plans on raising his son, Jake Jr., here.

"Donating the money is something that's not going to hurt me, let's be honest. And it's something that's going to help other people."

Voracek's agent is former Flyers defenseman Petr Svoboda, who was a member of the Flyers' teams of the late 1990s, including the 1997 team that sent a jolt through the hockey-crazed city with its run to the Stanley Cup Final. Svoboda was also a member the 1998 Czech team that won gold at the Nagano Olympics and scored the only goal of the Czechs' gold medal-clinching victory over Russia.

Last year, Svoboda donated his Olympic gold medal to Voracek's foundation in an effort to raise money. It's still up for auction as the high bids continue to roll in.

"We're just waiting for the highest stake so we can raise as much as possible," Voracek said.

"Back home, the gold Czech medal is very popular because there was only one goal he scored and it was in the final game against Russia. It was the first Olympics the Czech Republic ever won. So it's a high stake and it's going to help a lot of lives."

Voracek noted that although she often feels fatigued and has "on and off days," Petra, now 41, is doing well and the medication she receives is working just as her doctors hoped. She stays active, which Voracek feels is an integral part of her progress.

That's why he was thrilled to see Bickell called up to the Hurricanes prior to their game in Minnesota on April 4 following an AHL conditioning stint after a five-month hiatus from hockey. Voracek used the word "dedication" over and over and over again when asked about Bickell's return and the message it sends, especially to those with MS.

Whether Bickell realizes it or not, his valiant return through all devilish obstacles MS placed in front of him has made him a beacon of strength and courage for those battling the potentially debilitating disorder.

To come back from everything he's faced and play among the most physically demanding and grueling sports in the world, where constant motion is key and toughness is ingrained in the very DNA of the game, he's become an inspirational figure.

In the ultimate turn of hockey life irony, it turns out Bickell's last game was indeed at the Wells Fargo Center, just not in October. It was last Sunday's season finale between the Flyers and Hurricanes, the exclamation point on his comeback.

On the Saturday prior to the game, Bickell announced his intentions to retire when the final horn blared throughout the Flyers' home rink Palm Sunday night.

In a statement released by the Hurricanes and the NHL on Friday, Bickell said, "From where I was at my peak to where I am now, there's a difference in my game. I don't think I will ever get back to that point with the circumstances."

Bickell went out in style Sunday evening, as he scored his first career shootout goal, wiring a wicked wrister past Flyers rookie goalie Anthony Stolarz to give his team a 1-0 lead in the shootout.

On his way back to the bench after depositing the puck into the net one final time after doing so 85 times total in his career, Bickell bumped fists with Flyers players while skating by their bench and was then mobbed by his teammates in celebration once he reached them.

The roars from the Hurricanes' locker room after the game reverberated throughout the corridors of the Wells Fargo Center, as players celebrated their beloved teammate's achievement and career. After the game, a shiny gold personalized Hurricanes pro wrestling title belt the team gives out to the player of the game after each victory hung from Bickell's locker room stall.

"It's all been an emotional week leading up to this day. Seeing my family here and all the people who supported me through it all," Bickell said while fighting back tears.

"It feels kinda good when you think of it. It was special. The first time I lifted the Cup was here in Philly, so to end it here, it was nice. You kind of think of all the memories and all the support and the people who helped through the moment, it just all rushes to you at once. I'm just happy to have them support me and believe in me to do what I love.

"I think I sweat all the tears out, so I don't know if I have many left."

The Hurricanes won, 4-3, Sunday in a game that meant little more than sewing up positioning for this coming June's draft.

But the real winners Sunday night in South Philly were Bickell and all those he continues to inspire and all those who personally deal with MS in some shape or form.

Count Voracek and his sister among those people.