Update: After coming oh-so close, Prospal has opted not to sign.
After speaking with family and further consideration, Vinny Prospal has decided to retire and will not sign an AHL PTO with Utiac. #Canucks
— Dan Murphy (@sportsnetmurph) January 24, 2014
The Columbus Blue Jackets were not expected to do much last season. They finished last in the Central Division and 13th in the Western Conference in the 2011-12 season and traded franchise forward Rick Nash in the 2012 off-season. The vast majority of analysts expected the Blue Jackets to crash without Nash and compete for the first overall pick in the draft. Instead, they competed for the playoffs and fell just short.
A big reason for the Blue Jackets’ run was Sergei Bobrovsky, who won the Vezina for his efforts, but another was the play of 38-year-old Václav “Vinny” Prospal, who lead the team in scoring with 30 points in 48 games.
Now, with his 39th birthday just a few weeks away, Prospal is eyeing a return to the NHL and the Canucks have decided to give him an opportunity, offering him a professional tryout with their AHL affiliate, the Utica Comets. It’s an interesting move, as Prospal has a long history with Canucks coach John Tortorella in previous stints with the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers.
That history hasn’t always been a positive one, as the two have butted heads repeatedly over the 7 years they have been together.
The most famous incident came back in 2008 when the two were in Tampa Bay. Prospal had found his way into Tortorella’s doghouse despite producing points and had been dropped from the first line and had his minutes cut in half for a series of games. Once he was returned to the top line, he responded, scoring two goals and getting named the first star. His on-ice post-game interview was one for the ages.
“This is the biggest satisfaction I ever had as a hockey player,” Prospal said, then explained why. “In a way, I hope I shove it up somebody’s butt.”
Sure, there are the issues of English being Prospal’s second language, but the meaning is pretty clear. It’s also perfectly clear that Prospal was talking about Tortorella. Prospal clearly felt he had something to prove and did exactly what he set out to do.
When Tortorella, now with the Rangers, acquired Prospal a year later after he was bought out by the Lightning, he said that’s when Prospal is at his best: “This guy has something to prove and he’s a pretty good player when he has that attitude.” He also said that “He’s a pain in the ass sometimes, but it doesn’t matter.”
Prospal seems to have the same tendency for painful honesty as Tortorella, which is likely one of the reasons they’ve butted heads over the years and also one of the reasons they respect and like each other. According to Mike Gillis, “Torts likes him a lot” and they reportedly have developed a strong friendship over the years.
“From the time I was traded to Philadelphia [winter of 2008] and when he lost the job in Tampa [summer of 2008 season], we kept in touch,” Prospal said after signing with the Rangers in 2009. “I just basically take our relationship beyond player and coach. It doesn’t work with everyone, but the way he is demanding, the way the practices are run, the way the camp is run and the way we play, there is something about it. It suits me.”
Once again, Prospal has something to prove. He wanted to return to the Blue Jackets, believing in where they were going. “I want to come back,” he told the Columbus Dispatch, “I want to be part of this team, especially after the way we played after the start. We’ve really turned a corner and I can see where this is going.”
The Blue Jackets, however, didn’t want Prospal coming with them, despite 28 goals and 85 points in his 130 games with Columbus. Unfortunately, no one else came calling either, not wanting to take a chance on an older player who has never been fleet of foot.
While Prospal’s remained productive, his age is definitely a concern. That said, his strengths have always been his hockey IQ, great shot, and playmaking, particularly on the power play. 79 of his 255 career goals have come with the man advantage, where the Canucks have, as everyone knows, struggled mightily this season. He’s also been praised for his leadership on and off the ice wherever he’s gone.
Of course, counting on a just-short-of-39-year-old veteran who hasn’t been playing for months to come in and save the day is completely unreasonable. That’s why signing him to a tryout with Utica is a no-risk move. They’ll get a chance to see if he still has what it takes, starting this weekend, with the Comets in Abbotsford on Friday and Saturday.
There is definitely an opportunity for Prospal, with both Mike Santorelli and Henrik Sedin currently on the shelf, with Jordan Schroeder also making his way to Abbotsford for a conditioning stint with the Comets. The main hole, then, is down the middle. Prospal started his career as a centre but his best years offensively have come on the wing and it’s been a long, long time since he played at centre.
If Prospal does prove himself with Utica, he’s well worth signing to an NHL contract. To put things in perspective, he had more points through 48 games last season than Ryan Kesler did this season. Through 48 games, he would be right behind the Sedins in points. While that may say more about the Canucks than Prospal, there’s no doubt they need an injection of scoring.
The nice thing about considering Prospal is that they won’t have to lose any assets to bring him in. The nice thing about the Canucks owning their own AHL affiliate is that they can try him out without risk.
I, for one, am rooting for him, if only because I think the Canucks need more players who use the word “butt” in interviews.Tags: John Tortorella, Vinny Prospal