Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Venit. Vidit. Ipse signati novum contractus.

Vinny Prospal signed a one-year, $2.5 million contract for the 2012-13 season with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Here's the Dispatch story on the signing.

Blue Jackets fans will see Vinny Prospal around the
practice rink for at least one more season
I have quite a few thoughts on this and don't want to confuse, so I'm going to split this post up and address each topic separately.

Good for Vinny.  Despite his somewhat recent slump, Prospal, at age 37, still is a leading scorer for the team (which admittedly isn't saying a lot, considering the team is third-worst in the NHL in scoring, with 123 goals thus far this season).  He's been recognized as a powerful and positive locker room presence by the likes of Derek Dorsett and Ryan Johansen.

To toss $2.5 million - less than the cost of an average NHL salary ($64.3 million divided by 23 players equals $2.79 million) - at a guy like Prospal comes across as a no-brainer to me.  The fear of signing a 37-year-old is easily tempered by the fact that it's a one-season contract.  If it doesn't work out, very little is lost from an organizational flexibility perspective. So good for the Blue Jackets, too.

That's not to say that the Prospal signing wasn't a surprise.  Most of the intelligentsia (CBJ, NHL) looked at the CBJ salary/contract chart and identified Prospal as a reasonably affordable player who 1) could actually help a winning team go over the top and 2) get the CBJ something in return as a result.  So it was almost presumed that Vinny would get shopped.

But then Vinny signs, presumably at the urging of the club.  (I suppose a scenario could come up where Vinny begs Howson to re-sign him, but the fact that the salary is the same makes that less likely.)

So a potential prospect or draft pick is foregone.  Is the "nuclear option" - the back to the foundation rebuild of the roster and perhaps the franchise - off the foundation?  In the Dispatch article linked above, Howson says no...and I believe him on two levels.
  1. Howson has come across to me as being as honest as the day is long.  When he opens his mouth, he speaks the truth about where he's coming from.  (The trick is to get him to open his mouth.  Damned lawyers.) 
  2. If you think that signing one player - especially one with a limited shelf life - to a one-year contract to a 23-man roster would fundamentally change the strategic direction of the team (ACK!  No extra second-round pick!  We're doomed!), well...I'm not sure there's much hope for you.  Enjoy the fights.  
The players to watch for indications of an overhaul are obvious, and they make a lot more money than Prospal while being tied down for a lot longer.  Think about players like Nash, Carter, Umberger, Vermette, Brassard, Tyutin & Methot. When Howson draws from that pool of players to make his deals, then you know the yard sale sign is out.  

He may be 37 years old, but Vinny Prospal is
at least as good as an average NHL player
Then there's the idea that both Prospal and Howson shared about bringing Vinny into the team's hockey operations structure when his playing days are done.  Done wisely, its a masterstroke that other teams (especially the Detroit Red Wings, who seem to make a habit of finding room for beloved old players in the front office and on the scouting staff) have long embraced.

The CBJ?  They've elevated Tyler Wright.  Wright might be a great choice to move on this progression - I don't know him or his work at all - but he's one guy regardless of any merits he may have.

And for all the reasons listed above, Prospal looks like a good choice.

Finally (and astute readers of this blog know that I often leave the best for last), there's the whole discussion of older players on the roster.  Implicit in this "We'll move you up the ladder" type of handshake agreement is that the player pretty much ends his career in Columbus.

(I know, Wright was dumped onto the Ducks at the end of his NHL career at the trade deadline and then grabbed a cup of coffee in Europe before coming back, but bear with me.  I'm trying to make a point.)

Prospal made mention that he and his family (wife and three kids) like it here in Columbus.  Freddy Modin, after getting bounced around the league at the end of his career, has chosen to make Columbus his home after retiring from the NHL (and my nephew has played travel hockey against his kid this season).  Mike Peca wanted to keep going with the Blue Jackets, as did Jan Hejda.

Point being, older players - especially those with families - tend to like Columbus.  And why not?  Decent schools, reasonable quality of life, low cost of living...for a thirty-something NHLer with a spouse and kid(s), those are real compelling reasons to pick Columbus.

So why aren't the Columbus Blue Jackets taking advantage of this?

Drawing upon my NFL-centric fan background, I think of the 1980-81 Oakland Raiders (not the steroids and stick-um parts).  That was a team with a heavy dose of short-term veterans at the end of their careers.  That also was a team that won Super Bowl XV.  Their starting quarterback? An old goat named Jim Plunkett.

Now look north at the Red Wings.  How many times have they plugged in a few key veterans on shorter-term contracts to put them over the top?    Same could be said of the New York Rangers, who snagged Mark Messier away from Edmonton and won a Stanley cup with him.  Or Ray Borque in Colorado.  It goes  on and on.

There is no good reason that the Blue Jackets can't sprinkle their roster - among the youngest in the league with an average age of 26.814 - with a handful of Prospals to mentor the young guns while wrapping up their careers in a place where they are valued and relied upon to contribute.  It's a 23-man roster; what if the Blue Jackets had four or five such "Prospal-like" veterans players?  The whole complexion of the team would be changed dramatically, and probably for the better.

I know that Howson has tried this approach in years past, bringing in the League of Ex-Captains (Chris Clark, Ethan Moreau, Craig Rivet) to help bolster the locker room.  The problem with all of those guys was that they couldn't walk the walk.  Prospal is an older vet, sure, but he's a top contributor.  Big difference.

Final 'sub-thought': The notion of rotating older players through on short-term contracts to end their careers here in no way contradicts my thoughts on the Blue Jackets roster.  If anything, it enhances the ideas already presented along the lines of the Don Maloney/Phoenix Coyotes rebuilding model.  Send the kids down to the minors to learn and win, backfill with talented (enough) old veterans while the kids mature.  Works for me.

Lastly, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Howson made the effort to re-sign Prospal.  I mean, how many Blue Jackets players received this type of attention in recent years - let alone one who had been on the regular season roster for all of two-and-a-half months?  Clearly, the team likes the guy...and for good reason.

1 comment:

  1. Great Post DBJ - Gotta admit I was surprised by this move, but I think its a good one.

    The only other thing I would add is that I think Chris Clark and family are in town, and that Clark has been talking to Howson about getting some work scouting.

    Our youth hockey should be getting better anyhow!


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