Unlike Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Michael Sauer, there isn’t an air of inevitability about Vinny Prospal’s return to the Rangers roster this summer. Prospal, a 36-year old bit-part player sidelined for much of the season with a lingering knee injury, posted 23 points in 29 games down the stretch as the Rangers secured playoff hockey for the first time in two years.
Of course, when I say ‘bit-part’ I’m referring to the games played this season, not the overall impact of Prospal’s presence on the roster. Despite his declining health, Prospal remains one of the better bang-for-your-buck acquisitions of recent years and would be a shrewd reinvestment if the Rangers were to resign him to an affordable one-year deal. Another ’if’, though, is the reliability of Prospal’s body to get him through the rigours of an 82-game NHL season, plus the playoffs.
The Rangers lack of depth on the left side works in Prospal’s favour, but with prospects Christian Thomas, Carl Hagelin and, perhaps, Chris Kreider pushing for roster spots in camp this summer (however likely), it could be said that reinvesting in Prospal – a less than sure thing given his injury problems this year – may not be the wisest decision.
Prospal brings leadership and, despite his age, a skill-set that much of the Blueshirts roster lacks at this point, but the team has clearly looked to push youth through over the past few seasons and could be expected to do so again this year.
His partnership with Marian Gaborik was key to much of the Rangers success through the 2009/10 season, though with injuries curtailing his productivity this year and the supposed interest in Dallas Stars impending free-agent Brad Richards, it’s to be seen as to whether or not there remains a place for Prospal, let alone the cap space to accommodate him.
Re-signing key restricted free-agents Callahan, Dubinsky, Anisimov and Sauer are (or at least, should be) the Blueshirts’ number one priority this summer. Brad Richards will undoubtedly be a close second, leaving Prospal to wait while Sather and Co. crunch the numbers.
NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly’s comments today regarding the apparent rise in the salary cap to as much as $63.5m should allow the Rangers the flexibility to tick off much of their summer to-do list, while a potential buyout of Chris Drury’s contract (speculation, of course) would ensure they had ample space to resign Prospal if they so wish.
Prospal’s experience and leadership capabilities both on and off the ice are vital necessity’s for a young team like ours, but the Rangers need to feel safe in the assumption that he can contribute for a fair percentage of the season… cut-price deal or otherwise. Personally, I would like to see Vinny back next season, but not as a priority. Once the RFA’s are re-signed and Brad Richards perhaps acquired, only then would I look to put pen to paper with Prospal. At this stage in his career he mustn’t be seen as a building block.