It has been a whirlwind offseason for the Columbus Blue Jackets, which we have documented here at Union and Blue.
Despite all the positives moves the organization has made over the past few weeks, there is still one move the Jackets have not made that has left some fans somewhere between conflicted and angry.
You can call it the Vinny Prospal conundrum.
Under normal circumstances, a team thinking about moving on from a 38-year-old forward would not be a huge surprise.
It appears as if moving on is exactly what the Jackets are doing at this point. Not only have they seemingly filled most of their needs this offseason, but if Boone Jenner makes the team this fall, that would fill another offensive spot.
The problem that certain fans have with this is twofold. The first is the (now meaningless) “gentleman’s agreement” Prospal had with former general manager Scott Howson. Prospal would finish his on-ice career with the Jackets, then slide into a role with the organization.
Of course, this agreement is now moot because Howson is gone and Jarmo Kekalainen is now in charge.
If this were the only issue at hand, fans might be a bit miffed but would generally understand. The new GM does not have to honor agreements made by the former GM. That is the way it goes.
It is what Prospal himself brought to the organization that is giving many fans trouble.
Prospal was one of the team leaders that ended the so-called “country club” mentality that surrounded Jacket teams of the past. He brought an accountability in the locker room that had not existed before.
In his two seasons in Columbus, even in his mid-30s, Prospal played every game for Columbus. He played all 82 in 2011-12 and all 48 this past season. He scored 28 goals in two seasons and brought his child-like enthusiasm every time he would score.
He had already endeared himself to his teammates and the fans of Columbus.
Then came the events of March 9, 2013.
With the Jackets well on their way to a 3-0 win over the hated Detroit Red Wings, Prospal and Justin Abdelkader ended up in a scrum. Prospal, with a single finger directed skyward, reminded the Red Wing player about the score of the game.
He was given a 10-minute misconduct, and could have been elected mayor of Columbus that night.
Imagine that: The Blue Jackets, who had suffered for years at the hands of their (now former) division rivals, in a position to taunt the Red Wings. How unbelievable is that?
To fans like us, Prospal’s point was more than just a reminder of how that night’s game was going. It was a moment where an organization stood up to the all the bullies and said, “We will no longer be the butt of your jokes anymore.”
For those of us who are life-long Ohioans, we all possess equal parts blue-collar attitude and midwestern inferiority complex, always the butt of jokes from either bigger cities or “more traditional” hockey markets.
That night, Prospal spoke for all of us with a simple point of the finger.
This is why this is so difficult for so many fans.
The organization must look at it from a strictly business standpoint. We as fans hope our management runs the team with their heads and not their hearts. That is how you build a good organization.
But we fans want to have our cake and eat it too. We want teams built intelligently, but emotionally it is hard to see someone like Prospal simply let go.
It will be interesting to see how things progress. The Jackets are up against the salary cap, and if Jenner or a recent free agent signing like Jack Skille earns a spot, it likely means the end for Prospal as a Jacket.
In the end, I believe moving on is the right decision. That doesn’t mean we, as fans, have to like it. We just have to understand it.
It’s not personal. It’s just business.