The play to date of Vinny Prospal certainly ranks among the bigger surprises of the NHL season. After being cast off by the Lightning in the off-season, Prospal wondered if his NHL career had reached its conclusion. Fortunately for himself and for the Rangers, New York GM Glen Sather reached out to Vinny and convinced him to come to the Big Apple to re-joing his former coach in Tampa, John Tortorella.
His play to date has been excellent. Skating with Superstar winger Marian Gaborik has done wonders for Prospal’s scoring as he has 20 points (4 goals, 16 assists) through the first 18 games. It isn’t only has showing in the offensive zone that has been exemplary, his play without the puck and in the neutral zone has been better than advertised.
Torts has even used Vinny to kill penalties, something he never would have done while coaching Prospal in Tampa. Prospal has earned the respect of the coaches and his teammates enough that he was selected as Assistant Captain joining Ryan Callahan in that honor.
Clearly Prospal has shown himself to be a steal at just a $1.15 million cap hit for this season. The question I pose is how hard should the Rangers try to extend Prospal? How many years and at what salary would you be willing to go on an extension?
Vinny will be 35 when next season starts and that can impact when and what type of offer the Rangers make. Contracts that are signed by players 35 or older can include bonuses which don’t count against the upper limit until they are reached. Some teams have used this as a way to fit a player under the cap to start the regular season until they can figure out the cap situation better.
Then there is the downside to signing a player to a long term extension at 35 or older. If a player is inked to an extension at the age of 35 or older, that player’s cap hit counts for every season of the contract even if he retires. The Flyers are in that spot right now with Chris Pronger as he agreed to a multi-year extension that begins after he turns 35 and runs until well into his 40’s. The Flyers contend that since the deal was struck before Pronger turned 35, that his cap hit should wash away when and if he retires before the end of his deal. The NHL contends that isn’t in the spirit of the clause. There’s a fight brewing on that front.
Since Prospal is 34 and will be 35 this coming February, Sather may play it tight until there is a resolution to the Pronger situation. This means that if the Rangers were to offer Prospal an extension they would likely offer a short-term one; maybe 1 or 2 years.
Another factor to consider is that Prospal has alternated good years with bad since the end of the lockout. Prospal has recorded season point totals of 80 (2005/2006), 55 (2006/2007), 71 (2007/2008), 45 (2008/2009) in the 4 full seasons since the end of the lockout. This season, with 20 points through 18 games, Prospal is on pace for another good season (91 points at the current rate). Given his history, does this mean that Prospal’s production will decline if suiting up for the Rangers again next year?
Something else for Rangers fans (and Management) to consider; the team will have to deal with the RFA status of D Marc Staal, D Dan Girardi and F Enver Lisin. The team has 15 players on this roster under contract for next season. If the salary cap stays roughly the same as it is this year then the Rangers will have somewhere around $8 - $8.5 million with which to deal with those players and flesh out the rest of the roster. That won’t be an easy task.
If you ask any Rangers fans today, most would assuredly want to bring Prospal back next season. However, in the NHL of the salary cap era, things are never that easy. Prospal seems to be enjoying his time here on Manhattan as much as he has enjoyed playing anywhere else in his career. Maybe Vinny will make it easy for Sather again by accepting a low base salary on a 1 year deal for next season. Then again maybe he won’t and the Rangers may be confronted with a tough decision come next July.