Vinny Prospal expected the end to be painful. But after 16 seasons and 1,108 games with seven NHL franchises, Prospal announced his retirement last week amid a certain peace.
“It felt like I was finally free of all the pressure,” said Prospal, who led the Blue Jackets in points with 30 last season. “I don’t have to prove to anybody that I’m better than the guy sitting next to me. I don’t have to fight off that guy fighting for my job, or the other guy trying to take my spot on the power play. I just felt such a relief.”
Prospal was not re-signed by the Blue Jackets last summer because general manager Jarmo Kekalainen wanted to give larger roles to several younger players. Boone Jenner, Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson and others have had good seasons, but it was hard for many fans to bid farewell to Prospal, one of the more passionate players to wear the Blue Jackets sweater.
The feeling was mutual, Prospal said.
“When I got there, nobody wanted to be there,” Prospal said. “But we became a team that was relentless, and they still use that word there. It’s a team nobody wants to play against, and we only got better over time.
“They brought me in to change the culture, and I’m always going to be proud of that, that I was part of the spark plug. The players weren’t happy. The fans weren’t happy, of course. But now it’s a team that makes people proud.”
Prospal signed a tryout agreement with the Vancouver Canucks’ minor-league affiliate last week but made it through only one practice before realizing he didn’t have it in him to keep playing.
“It was, ‘Why am I not with my family? Why am I here?’ ” Prospal said. “If I’d gone to camp (in September) and had time to get my family set up — be it Columbus or somewhere else — we could have been together, and it might been different.
“But I didn’t want to be on my own another three to four months. ... I want to be a husband and a father now.”
Prospal resides in Florida and is coaching his 13-year-old son.
One year away
One year from now, the Blue Jackets and the city of Columbus will be basking in the glow of the All-Star Game, set for Jan. 25, 2015, at Nationwide Arena. The NHL has been preoccupied with the six outdoor games it’s staging this season, but planning for the All-Star Game likely will begin moving forward in March.
“Then it’ll be all hands on deck,” said Linda Logan, executive director of the Greater Columbus Sports Commission.