On Saturday, the Columbus Blue Jackets and GM Scott Howson announced that they had signed free agent forward Vinny Prospal to a one-year, $1.75 million contract. The team has already acquired an assortment of offensive firepower; but then again, they were a team that needed a great deal of offensive talent to compete. He’ll most likely slide into a top-line role while injured winger Kristian Huselius recovers from a torn pectoral muscle that is expected to keep him out for four months. His role is clear, yet his ability to fill said role isn’t as easy to figure out. Will he be able to produce at a high level and help Jeff Carter and Rick Nash become one of the most feared duos in the league?
That’s the million dollar question. For what it’s worth, Howson seems to think that he has found the answer for the first half of the season:
“Vinny Prospal is a proven top six forward in the National Hockey League and we look forward to him playing that role for our hockey club. We are very pleased to be able to add a player of his caliber to our team at this late date in the free agency process.”
Translation: When Huselius injured himself this offseason, we needed to find someone as soon as possible and this is what we could find. Howson further explained the move to Tom Reed of The Columbus Dispatch:
“He’s produced almost everywhere he’s gone. As we went through this process of finding somebody who could help us get through the first part of the season without Kristian, we kept coming back to him. He was at the top of our list in terms of players who were available.”
Even though some people in Columbus fear that Prospal’s reputation is a function of playing in New York, Prospal is the right player for the Blue Jackets at the right time. They aren’t depending on Prospal to carry the team on the first line—they’re just asking him to be able to keep up with Rich Nash and Jeff Carter until Kristian Huselius returns to the line-up. In short bursts, Prospal has proven that he can put points on the board. Just look at last season—even though he only played in 29 games last year, he was second on the team with .79 points per game.
Obviously it would be asking a lot for a 36-year-old playing on his seventh team to score 25 goals and 65 points next season. If teams expected that kind of output, it wouldn’t have taken him three weeks to find a job and he would have signed for more than $1.75 million next season. Most likely, he’ll be a little better than he was a season ago defensively and not quite as productive offensively. Columbus signed him for what he is: a potentially very good stop-gap measure. Once Huselius returns to the line-up, Prospal will provide decent scoring depth and help on the power play for a team that desperately needed help scoring goals last year. Andy Newman at Jackets Cannon understands the best case scenario:
“I’m most excited for what the lineup looks like when Huselius returns, even if that happens to be late January. This adds tremendous depth and will fill out the lineup just in time for the playoffs. With Prospal playing left wing, I imagine Nash will get moved back to the right side, where he has spent plenty of time the past two seasons.”
The most important factor to keep in mind with the Prospal acquisition in Columbus is expectations. For fans who expect him to come in and score at a point-per-game average, they will most likely be disappointed by the end of the season. But for those who understand that he is a streaky player who has the talent to play with the two elite offensive players who are responsible for carrying the Blue Jackets this season, they should be happy with the Prospal signing. He’s a temporary solution for a team that desperately needed someone who could fill a huge void for a few months. Anything beyond that should be icing on the cake. Considering he didn’t cost much and looks to be highly motivated, it should be a situation of the perfect player, fitting into the perfect role at the perfect time.