Meltzer’s Musings: Voracek, Berube, Barnes, Quick Hits

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QUICK START IMPORTANT FOR VORACEK

Flyers right winger Jakub Voracek is unquestionably one of the most skilled players on the team. He has averaged 0.83 points per game over the last two seasons and has compiled 52 goals, 71 assists and 123 points over his last 145 regular season games (0.85 points per game) dating back to the stretch drive of the 2011-12 season.

Off the ice, the 25-year-old Czech is also one of the most likable and popular players on the club. He always has a smile on his face and popular among teammates, fans and the media alike.

One thing Voracek has never been, however, is one of the better conditioned players in the NHL. While with the Columbus Blue Jackets, former coach Scott Arniel said of Voracek to the Columbus Dispatch, “”The biggest thing that is holding him back is his conditioning. I think this guy can be an elite player in this league if he gets himself in shape.”

Voracek got more serious about staying in shape once he came to the Flyers. Even so, he caught heat for his conditioning after the lockout in 2012. Voracek joked that he perhaps he’d enjoyed his mother’s home cooking a little too much while playing for HC Lev during the lockout. Scott Hartnell, who also admittedly reported to the Flyers in less-than-ideal shape after the lockout, joked that Voracek and himself were candidates for “fat camp.”

Of course, those complaints disappeared quickly when Voracek went on to have a career season in the 48-game 2012-13 season, posting 22 goals, 46 points and scoring on 17.0 percent of his shots.

Last season, while the Flyers got off to a horrendous 1-7-0 and 4-10-1 start and scored just 22 goals over their first 15 games, much of the attention was focused on the fact that Claude Giroux had no goals over that span. Voracek did not fare much better, scoring just one goal and four points in the first 15 games of the season.

Once Giroux and Voracek got rolling, so did the Flyers. Over the remaining 67 games of the regular season, Voracek posted 22 goals, 36 assists and 58 points (0.865 points per game). During the Flyers first-round playoff series against the Rangers, Voracek was one of the few Flyers players who had success in skating the puck through New York’s tight checking and creating scoring chances.

Flyers head coach Craig Berube, who took over for Peter Laviolette three games into last season, spent much of the year harping on players’ conditioning. He cited lack of conditioning as one of the key reasons for the team’s bad start last year. Although Berube did not name names, it did not take much reading between the lines to figure out that Hartnell and Voracek were two of the players about whom he was referring.

At the end of last season and throughout the summer, Berube and general manager Ron Hextall have said that every player on the team will be expected to report to camp this September in outstanding physical condition — not just average, not even a little above average by their accustomed standard. Berube has set the bar the very high.

With Hartnell having been traded to Columbus, do not be surprised if Voracek gets extra scrutiny from his coach in the conditioning department at training camp unless the player is truly in the best shape of his life.

For one thing, everyone knows that Voracek is one of the top players on the team. If the head coach gets on one of top line players, players whose lineup spots are not as secure are sure to take notice. Secondly, Berube knows that Voracek will bring his best on game nights no matter what and is not one to sulk or pout. He has the personality to take the heat.

Once the regular season starts, the Flyers will need both Giroux and Voracek to get off to better offensive starts than they did last season. The team’s October schedule is a difficult one, and the top line will have to lead the way regardless of which player wins the left wing spot vacated by Hartnell.

*************** FLYERS UNLIKELIEST ALL-STAR AND ASHBEE TROPHY WINNER TURNS 61

Former Flyers defenseman Norm Barnes celebrates his 61st bithday today. One of the more interesting one-year wonders in Flyers history was the 1979-80 season enjoyed by Barnes. He caught lightning in a bottle during the year of the Flyers’ 35-game unbeaten streak and ultimately heartbreaking trip to the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals.

Originally an 8th-round pick of the Flyers in the 1973 NHL Amateur Draft, the Michigan State University product went unsigned and later re-entered the Flyers organization as a free agent.

Barnes spent five years bouncing around the minor leagues, including stints with the NAHL’s Philadelphia Firebirds and the Flyers’ American Hockey League affiliates of the era, the Richmond Robins and Maine Mariners. He dressed in one NHL game for the Flyers in 1976-77 but seemed otherwise destined to be a career minor league player.

A funny thing happened to Norm Barnes in 1979-80. A trusted AHL player for Maine under the auspices of Pat Quinn and Bob McCammon, Barnes earned an opening-night spot on Quinn’s Flyers after a strong preseason. That carried right over into the regular season.

The 26-year-old rookie played so well during the Flyers’ record 25-0-10 unbeaten streak that he earned a spot in the NHL All-Star Game. Despite missing 21 games in the second half of the season due to a torn abdominal muscle, Barnes won the Barry Ashbee Trophy as the Flyers’ top defenseman on the strength of posting 25 points and a plus-23 rating in 59 games.

Barnes won the honor over the likes of Bob Dailey (13 goals, 39 points, plus-30 in just 61 games), fellow All-Star Game selection Jimmy Watson (plus-51) and Behn Wilson (34 points, plus-21, 212 penalty minutes).

Barnes’ wife, Cid, was a fixture at Flyers games that season, singing the national anthem at the Spectrum. Later, she sang the anthem in Hartford when Norm was a member of the Whalers.

Barnes dressed in 10 of the team’s 19 postseason games during the team’s run to the 1980 Finals, which ended in a highly controversial Game Six overtime loss to the New York Islanders. The next year, his Cinderella story came to an end as his play returned to more of his actual level of ability.

In 1980-81, Barnes dressed in 22 of the first 26 games of the regular season, posting three assists and a minus-three rating. On November 21, 1980, general manager Keith Allen traded Barnes and tough guy defenseman Jack McIlhargey to the Hartford Whalers in exchange for a 1982 second-round pick. That pick was subsequently sent to Toronto along with Rick Costello and Ken Strong in exchange for future Hall of Famer Darryl Sittler.

A legend with the Maple Leafs, Sittler was a little past his prime by the time “Keith the Thief” brought him to Philly. Even so, he was still a highly effective player. In 35 games for the Flyers in the second half of 1981-82, Sittler produced 32 points in 35 games. The next year, he racked up 43 goals and 83 points.

In the meantime, Norm Barnes only lasted in the NHL until the 1981-82 season, when he found himself back in the AHL. Following the trade from Philly, he was minus-30 and posted 10 points in 51 games for a bad 1980-81 Whalers team. Even so, the well-liked player won the Hartford Favorite Whaler Award that season. The next year, he dressed in 20 NHL games for the Whalers and 56 AHL games for Binghamton.

********** QUICK HITS

* Nicolas Aube-Kubel got his QMJHL exhibition schedule off to an auspicious start. The Flyers’ 2nd round pick in the 2014 draft notched a hat trick in Val-d’Or’s 5-2 win over Blainville-Boisbriand.

* Samuel Morin, the Flyers first round pick in 2013, had two goals and an assist for Rimouski in an 8-4 preseason loss to Baie-Comeau.

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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