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It's been a couple of weeks since both non-hockey ops president Mike Priest and GM Scott Howson promised Blue Jackets fans some big changes to the roster. Nothing big has happened yet, outside of wild speculation over what part of the locker room the wrecking ball will hit first. Yesterday, the Blue Jackets announced that fan favorite Vinny Prospal has been given a one year contract extension. The move caused a lot of big smiles in Columbus, and more than a little head-scratching as well.
A lot of people, Blue Jackets fans among them, figured that Prospal was as good as gone come the NHL trade deadline. The soon-to-be 37 year old is in the sunset of a well-traveled career and the assumption was that he would relish the chance to jump yet again to a team that could give him another shot at playoff glory. By announcing the one year extension today, not only did the Blue Jackets and Prospal zig when everyone thought they would zag, they zugged (newly invented word that means to go in a different direction than a zig or a zag) by agreeing to a no trade clause in the deal, essentially assuring Vinny that he won't get Cartered (another new word that means hosed).
There's no denying that this move feels good. Prospal has won over the fans and now the front office with his passion and enthusiasm for the game, his tireless work ethic and, perhaps mostly, his honesty. Having him around another year just increases the chances that science might figure out a way for the Blue Jackets to clone him while he is here.
What's causing people's scalps to itch is the thought that this might just be the proverbial first shoe to drop. All those things that Vinny brings to the table are good things. Really good things. That many assumed Prospal would be dealt at the deadline speaks to the fact that, despite Prospal's age, he was sure to be highly sought after by more than a few contending teams. So if the Blue Jackets aren't selling a quickly depreciating asset when his value might not ever be greater, the question becomes: why not?
The timing of the move might be suggestive. The Blue Jackets appear to be on the verge of launching Operation Clean Howson. We have been told it will be "big." Is it big as in big R, big N with a big C on the front of the sweater? Forget the rumors du jour, common sense dictates that trading Nash has to be given consideration. Such a move would result in a gaping hole in the leadership of the team. The size of that hole is open to debate, but we can all agree that losing your captain is messy business. The Blue Jackets would need a player with special leadership qualities to step in and fill the void. Ask any diehard Blue Jackets fan who is still carrying the flag and you will be hard pressed to find one that doesn't think Vinny Prospal is that type of special player.
And if Scott Howson were about to drop that kind of bomb on the fan base, it makes sense that he would announce Prospal's extension now, with a contract that says "he might be here longer than me" -- BEFORE he pushes the button. In fact, given what we have come to learn of the calculated world that Scott Howson lives in, it makes a hell of a lot of sense.
But if you are Vinny Prospal, no matter how much you want to avoid uprooting your family, why would you want to subject yourself to more of this? Because you are a doer. Because you are a leader. Because you are a fixer, and this is a chance to prove it before you likely enter a career as a coach or scout. Because with a wink and a nod you have been promised a role with the team after your playing days are over. Because the team needs you, the fans love you and you have a unique opportunity to make a lasting impact on a franchise that so desperately needs and wants a lasting impact.
Whether Prospal's extension is the first shoe to drop in a massive roster makeover, or simply a wise GM realizing that he can't get equivalent value in a trade for a player that possesses so many badly needed intangibles, Blue Jackets fans are rejoicing today. They can now place their faith in Vinny. They know that with Vinny, all things are possible.