Jakub Voracek, pictured during practice for this year's Winter Classic, could be a target for Jim Rutherford if the Flyers inquire about the availability of Tim Gleason. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
The Philadelphia Flyers are a team in desperate need of help on defense. A long-term injury to the team's biggest name on the blue line has led to doubts that the Flyers are Stanley Cup contenders. Luckily for them they have a surplus of young forward talent, and the Carolina Hurricanes — who have stumbled to the bottom of the Eastern Conference — are looking to move out defense and add a young right winger that can play in their top six.
So it's only natural that the two teams make a deal, right? Truth is, they already did. On Jan. 20, 2004 — exactly eight years ago Friday — the Canes and Flyers swung such a deal a move that would later help propel Carolina to a Stanley Cup victory two seasons later.
The trade that sent then-22 year old Justin Williams to the Canes in exchange for Danny Markov, 27, was a bold move by Flyers GM Bobby Clarke. The Flyers gave up a former first-round pick for grit and character on the back end, hoping that Markov could help fill the void left by injuries to defensemen Dennis Seidenberg, Magnus Ragnarsson and, most notably, former captain Eric Desjardins. With a wealth of young forwards in Simon Gagne, Patrick Sharp and Mike Comrie plus more on the way — both Mike Richards and Jeff Carter had been drafted in the first round prior to the season — Philadelphia figured they could afford to part with Williams .
Fast forward to now, and the Canes and Flyers could be on a collision course for an eerily similar deal. The Flyers are again thin on defense, having lost captain and future Hall Of Famer Chris Pronger for the season due to post-concussion issues. They also have a surplus of young forwards: Sean Couturier (19), Brayden Schenn (20), James Van Riemdyk (22), Wayne Simmonds (23) and Claude Giroux (24) are all under 25 and capable of playing in most teams' top six, and all but Simmonds — taken 61st by Los Angeles in 2007 — were first-round picks.
Oh, and there's one more: 22-year-old Czech forward Jakub Voracek. The seventh overall pick by Columbus in 2007, Voracek came to Philadelphia this offseason — along with a first round pick, who became Couturier — in the blockbuster trade that sent Carter to the Blue Jackets. The 6'2, 214-pound right winger is a playmaker first, a scorer second. He uses his big frame to shield the puck in the offensive zone and is hard-working and defensively responsible.
In other words, exactly what the Hurricanes have been lacking on Eric Staal's right wing. And speaking of need, Carolina has precisely what the Flyers need in alternate captain Tim Gleason: a defense-first blueliner who epitomizes toughness and character on the ice and isn't afraid of big games.
Is Voracek, a veteran of 285 NHL games with 161 career points, too much to give up in return for Gleason? Not if we look back at the Williams-for-Markov trade.
The similarities, frankly, are stunning.
Voracek is 22 and in his fourth NHL season, as was Williams — picked 28th overall in the 2000 draft — when he was traded. Through 46 games back in 2003-04, Williams had six goals and 20 assists for 26 points. Voracek this year? Seven goals and 20 assists through 44 games. Both showed early in their career that they could produce points at the NHL level: Voracek already has a 50- and 40-point season under his belt in three years, while Williams registered 40 points in 2001-02 despite playing just 14:27 a night.
Over on defense, Markov was 27 whereas Gleason is a week and a half shy of 29. Markov had 14 points with 37 penalty minutes in 44 games when he was shipped to Philly, whereas Gleason currently has 12 points and 44 PIMs in 48 games. The Flyers know Gleason well — Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette coached him for two and a half seasons in Carolina — just as the Canes were familiar with Williams from his time with the Plymouth Whalers, an OHL team owned by Hurricanes CEO Peter Karmanos with a long history of supplying talent to Carolina.
Getting Voracek would fill a huge hole in Carolina's top six, allowing the team to continue to play Staal and Jeff Skinner on different lines while giving Staal a right wing who can distribute the puck and also take on some of the physical burden off of the captain on the top line. Also, Voracek would get the ice time he deserves (he currently averages 16:21 a night, sixth among Flyers forwards, but is on one of Philadelphia's power play units).
Parting with Gleason would be difficult — he's a great character player who, when on his game, can take on the NHL's best forwards. But the alternate captain is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and Carolina's defense coffers are as full as they've been in a decade. Like Clarke in 2004, Rutherford will be willing to part with a player whose role can be filled elsewhere if it means adding an important piece. But in 2004 that piece — Williams — was the player who sealed Game 7 of the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals with an empty-net goal.
And if history — and the two teams have a long one between them — is any indication, this trade could very well happen.