Larger payczech likely for Flyers' Voracek

Posted: January 19, 2012

NEARLY 15 FANS from the Czech Republic gathered around Jaromir Jagr and Jake Voracek yesterday in the Flyers' locker room for pictures and autographs.

Hanging just outside the room was another Czech, former Flyers defenseman Petr Svoboda, who was meeting with general manager Paul Holmgren upstairs at the team's South Jersey practice facility.

Svoboda, who spent parts of five seasons roaming the Flyers' blue line but became a player agent in 2002, was in town to speak with Holmgren about his two clients.

Holmgren told the Daily News last night that the discussion centered mostly on Jagr. Both players are skating on 1-year deals negotiated last summer.

Jagr, who turns 40 next month, said yesterday that nothing has changed in his mind and that he still would like to wait and see how his body holds up over the course of the full season before deciding his future plans.

"For sure, if I am healthy, I know that I definitely want to play next season," Jagr said. "For now, everything is still the same. I want to go through the playoffs with this team. But [Svoboda] isn't here for me."

The focus, invariably, then turns to Voracek, who is in quite a different situation as a pending restricted free agent. Voracek, 22, netted his seventh goal of the season in Tuesday night's win over Minnesota.

Voracek, who came to the Flyers from Columbus in the Jeff Carter trade, is on pace to match a career high with 50 points. His projections put him at 13 goals and 37 assists over 82 games. He is one of seven Flyers to skate in all 44 games this season.

"I think there is an adjustment period that goes on with any player who joins a new team," Holmgren said. "We've really been working on him to try and shoot more often. With some players, shooting is option 'A' or 'B.' For Jake, it might be option 'D' or even 'E,' for that matter.

"We think opponents are starting to key on his pass-first mentality and they're taking his options away. He's a talented player. The more he shoots, goals will start to pile up for him."

Holmgren said he didn't think it would be possible to quantify the impact that Jagr has had on Voracek and "all of our young players."

Voracek grew up in the town of Kladno idolizing Jagr. In Kladno, Jagr - perhaps his country's biggest pop-culture icon - owns the professional hockey team, HC Kladno. The two have become close friends.

"He's helped me a lot," Voracek said. "He's one of the best players to ever play the game. He's still showing it right now. He's something unbelievable. For me, everything is a little bit easier when he's around."

Coach Peter Laviolette, notices Voracek's sense of comfort and familiarity on the ice. It's rare to walk in the locker room and not find a smile on Voracek's face.

"You can walk in and say 'hi' on the first day, but it takes time to build that relationship," Laviolette said. "I think Jake has been really good for us. I'm happy with the way he is playing and attacking in the offensive zone. He seems pretty comfortable, certainly more so than he did in the first five to 10 games."

Back home, Voracek said the Flyers are the most-watched team in the Czech Republic. Most of that, he said, is because of Jagr. But he's noticed the increased Czech television coverage at practices and Czech flags flying in the stands during home and road games.

That's why Voracek, who lives in Old City, wants to stay in Philadelphia. Unlike Columbus, where the Blue Jackets have made the playoffs just once since beginning play in 2000-01, the Flyers give him a chance to win and be the NHL's focal point.

"Obviously, I want to be here," Voracek said. "This is a winning team. It's always a pleasure to be on a winning team. No matter what line you are on, you have a good chance to [get] points. I feel pretty comfortable with the puck on my stick. I feel better every game."

Voracek earns $2.25 million this season but he will be due a raise. The only question is how big? He's durable, fast and talented. He's sixth on the team in power play time per game - a number that is rising because of his crafty ability to break into the offensive zone and slow the play down to set up the formation.

"He's strong on his skates," Jagr explained. "Not every guy can do that. If you dump it in, you only have a 50-50 chance of getting it back."

On the high side, fellow Czech Martin Erat - who has scored 50, 49 and 50 points in the last three seasons - is playing on a 7-year, $31.5 million deal in Nashville that pays $4.5 million per year. Voracek's numbers are right there. And he's 8 years younger than Erat.

An educated guess would peg Voracek's salary near $3.75 million next season. With a lot of time between now and June 30, Holmgren said there is no rush by either side on a new deal.

"Aside from the first few games of the season, I'd say that he's probably been one of our most consistent forwards," Holmgren said. "We're working with him on things and we still think there is a lot of room to grow. I think we're only beginning to scratch the surface."

Slap shots

Zac Rinaldo returned to the ice yesterday after missing Tuesday's game with a neck injury. Rinaldo said he jarred his neck when hitting Nashville's Jordin Tootoo last Saturday. Rinaldo said he could return as soon as tonight against the Islanders. Peter Laviolette could opt to leave Jody Shelley, who was very noticeable in his first game since Dec. 23, in the lineup. The Flyers have a score to settle with Islanders defenseman Steve Staios from his high hit on Max Talbot a week before on Long Island.

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