This morning, the Columbus Blue Jackets announced the signing of Vinny Prospal to a one year extension (at the same 2.5 million cap hit he has this year) with the additional assumption that he would continue to be a part of the organization after his playing career is completed.
Let me first say, that I think Vinny is a tremendous competitor, a strong leader in how the team SHOULD be playing each day, and a great asset to have in the locker room, based on everything I have read this year. I see a great deal of value in his experience and attitude on and off the ice, and I imagine many of these points are the major reason why he received the contract he did.
Assumptions: The knee jerk reaction to this is anger. For a team knee deep in a horrible, embarrassing season, re-signing players is practically begging for similar results the following season (1). For a guy like Prospal, who woud likely garner a 2nd round pick or better at the deadline, re-signing denies the team a decent opportunity to add another prospect to the development pool (2). Additionally, if Prospal and management had discussed the potential for additional years, why not send him away to try and win a cup, and then bring him back in the off-season(3)? It has been done before, and it would allow the team to add a prospect without losing veteran leadership in the future.
I'm going to take those assumptions and break them down a bit. I think it is important to consider what could have or should have been, and I think those questions are the most common of the non "Yay Prospal!!" crowd.
1 - I think Prospal can be an exception to this rule, but there are some expectations from my end. The Jackets need to be serious about cleaning their roster of players who don't share the same passion that players like Prospal do in the depths of their roster (read bottom six forwards, bottom four defensemen).
Secondary to that, Prospal has diminished in value substantially throughout this season, more than likely due to the rigors of the NHL schedule, and his statistics have taken a dive each month. Where he lacks in speed on the ice, he most certainly makes up for in attitude, but that role can be played on the third line of a competitive hockey team. I believe that the Jackets will need to bolster their top six in the months leading up to the 2012/2013 season, and I am under the impression that Prospal's level of competitiveness at his age limits him even in the current top six.
My simple solution, or at least attitude toward this point, is that I am strongly in favour of his re-signing, PENDING the appropriate moves that leaves Prospal in a bottom six role to help lead the team and develop the budding youth of the roster.
2 - This is a purely assumptive 2nd round pick, although I think at this point it's reasonable to assume he could bring the team that much in a deadline deal. I think there are two very important things to note regarding the upcoming draft.
First, it is deemed to be a shallow draft by a number of analysts, leading me to believe that sending Prospal to a playoff team produces a later second round pick in a draft that shows no major promise of quality outside the top 5-10. This certainly hurts when you consider how seemingly successful the Jackets were last year in acquiring Jenner in the second round, but it changes so dramatically year after year, that one could only assume that the pickings in the 45-60 range will be limited to potential and heavy development prospects.
Second, based mostly on the first point, a second round pick in a shallow draft would suggest a LONG turnover before a player could become relevant for the Jackets. Hitting the jackpot is always a possibility, but the expectations of a player making a difference within four years would be entirely too optimistic for my blood. Prospal sticking around guarantees a relevant roster player for the upcoming season.
3 - This is an awfully big risk for both the player AND the organization. Suggesting a return without any sort of guarantee, or a simple handshake agreement, can leave so many leaks. First, Prospal could go to another team, find great chemistry there, and decide to stick around. As much as I personally believe Columbus to be an excellent place for a player to live in, I am limited in my knowledge of other cities, and am not so blind to think there are other NHL cities with plenty of great things to offer beyond a team standpoint.
Secondary to that, is the risk it leaves on the player. An aging veteran like Prospal could potentially be limited in his offers this coming off-season, and there is no guarantee that Columbus would stick to their word if they found the right free agent to sign, or made a deal with another team which filled Prospal's potential roster slot. Simply put, it's an enormous risk to take on both sides, and I can certainly understand (and frankly, being that it's Howson and how much he likes getting contracts out of the way as soon as possible) where they are both coming from.
I initially reacted critically to this decision. I feel that Columbus needs to show the fans a greater amount of activity in order to be confident about the future, but I also recognize that for most in the NHL, this isn't exactly the best time to pursue substantial trades. What I will be doing, is being patient until the moves begin to form the 2012/2013 roster, and then take a real look at the decisions that lead our team there. In the short term, I think Vinny is a tremendous competitor and a quality fan favourite that Columbus is fortunate to have. It's up to him to prove to me in the upcoming season that signing him for 2.5 million was the smart money decision.
I am VERY curious to hear your opinions on this, and whether you are strongly in agreement with any of the three major concerns I have noted, one way or the other. Feel free to share in the comments section!
Carry the Flag!