It’s time to look back in earnest on the 2013 Columbus Blue Jackets season, to try to put some capstones on the team and its efforts coming out of the NHL lockout. In my mind, there’s no better place to start than with the individual award that stands out above all others: The team’s Most Valuable Player award.
Of all the awards out there, this is perhaps the most deliciously subjective. Does it go to the most prolific player? Does it go to the one whose efforts most impacted the team’s performances? (And how does one quantify “impact”?) Does it reward a person whose actions at a pivotal moment were the most positive? Does it reward a player who showed up every day, playing strong as his blue line crumbled around him (see: Fedor Tyutin, my 2009-10 CBJ MVP)? Tough questions.
Can a goalie be your MVP? Let’s be honest with ourselves: A really good goalie covers up a number of faults that a team might have. So if a goalie has a great year, should the award go to anyone BUT the goalie? And what about a goalie – like, say, Sergei Bobrovsky – who starts the season with a rough 3-6-3 record but then morphs into a beast between the pipes, finishing with an impressive 21-11-6 stat sheet? (And I suppose it’s fair to ask whether that marked improvement is all on Bobrovsky or perhaps a reflection of a commitment to team defense that we haven’t seen in years.) I’m going to say that goalies can be MVP’s, but Bob wasn’t the MVP. Most Improved Player? Probably. But my Most Valuable Player award goes in another direction.
I suppose in my slowly advancing age and also in this age of instantaneous communication of ideas and thoughts (Thanks, Twitter) that it should come as no surprise that I have selected Vaclav Prospal as my 2013 Columbus Blue Jackets Most Valuable Player. Let me explain why I chose Vinny.
SCORING: 12 goals, 18 assists, 30 points. Prospal was second on the team in goals (Mark Letestu, another worthy MVP candidate, had 13), tied for first in assists and first in total points by three points over the next closest player (again, Letestu). On a team that was 25th in goals scored, every single goal counted. In fact, it could be argued that the well-timed goal in this game or that would have put the Blue Jackets into the playoffs.
The team needed scoring, and Vinny Prospal more than pulled his weight in that department.
[As an aside, Prospal's 12-18-30 scoring tallies over the 48 game season works out to 20 goals, 31 assists and 51 points over a full 82-game schedule. Again, not shabby.]
DURABILITY: There were 48 games in this season. Vinny played in 48 games. You cannot ask for more. Never mind that Prospal is 38 years old!
MATURITY: When his teammates shied away from anything remotely controversial last season, Prospal repeatedly spoke truth to power and said that it wasn’t good enough. What impressed me about Vinny’s comments, however, was the manner in which he spoke up. There was no venom or vitriol. Instead, there was the calm, straightforward demeanor of a man who’s been there before and whose words could not be challenged. Vinny was right: For a very healthy part of last season, the Blue Jackets were not good.
Fast forward to this season. The captain was traded away, the talent cupboard appeared dry. For the first third of the season, things looked bleak for the Blue Jackets. Yet there was Vinny, still telling the truth as evidenced by this post-game interview from the CBJ’s first home win on Janaury 28th:
Say whatever you want about the talent of the pre-John Davidson Blue Jackets. They were talented, I’ll grant, but I’d be hard pressed to find a stronger spine on this team than Vinny Prospal since Mike Peca left Columbus.
TEAM FIRST: Since he was signed by the Blue Jackets, I’ve been interested in how Prospal – in his mid-thirties when arriving in Columbus – still celebrates like a kid right off the draft floor. Remember that he arrived in town at a particularly sober time for the Blue Jackets, and you’ll appreciate why I was so intrigued.
I’m thrilled to report that rather than let the team culture change Vinny, I’ll suggest that Vinny probably was a driver in changing the team culture. All the way back to one of the first non-Nash/Carter practices (which also was one of the first Todd Richards-coached practices, granted), Prospal has celebrated in a way that is infectious amongst his teammates. This attitude has snowballed in 2013, as evidenced by the following:
I’ll admit that I’m being selective in my offerings. Yes, there are iconic photos of Prospal celebrating on his own. My point in showing you these photos, however, is to demonstrate that Prospal – while clearly overjoyed with the success achieved on the ice – is not making the celebration about him. It’s about the team. He’s getting hugged by the team. He skates over to his teammates to celebrate. He celebrates another player’s success (in this case, Letestu’s) like it was his own. And his teammates are reciprocating. Folks, this seems like a no-brainer…but it hasn’t been in Columbus. Vinny helped bring the concept of Team (capital “T” intended) back.
THE KILLER INSTINCT: One of the joys of the end of this past season was the virtual water cooler banter over whether there was a turning point where the Blue Jackets transformed from a bunch of guys who tried hard yet were expected to come up short into a team that expected to win each and every night. From losers into winners, in essence. Terrific conversations have come out of this subject.
The answer I favor is one opined by Full Mental Jackets‘ Greg May (at least I think it was Greg): On March 9, 2013 at Nationwide Arena, Vinny Prospal went scoreboard on the Detroit Red Wings. By that, I mean the Wings’ Justin Abdelkader was trying to get a little plucky, and Prospal was having none of that. At 13:34 of the third period, Prospal reminded young Abdelkader who was in control of the game:
Yes, Prospal took a 10-minute misconduct for the gesture. Yes, it was probably unsportsmanlike (…in a sport where beating the tar out of another player is sportsmanlike – go figure). But it was demonstrable proof that Prospal was a winner, and he showed both his teammates and the Red Wings that he knew the score…and was comfortable with it. He wasn’t afraid to lord it over Columbus’ former overlords.
I cannot overemphasize the magnitude of this. It’s like tectonic plates shifted under Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets had become a competitive, winning hockey team.
In fact, it was such a profound moment that Blue Jackets fans giddily inserted Prospal into a whole host of graphics, to terrific comedic effect.
Yes, Vinny, we noticed.
So there you have it. You want tangibles, like scoring statistics and durability? Vinny’s got ‘em. You want intangibles, like maturity, a team-first attitude and a killer instinct? He’s got that, too. Where would the team have been without Prospal’s contributions? Nowhere near the playoffs, I’ll suggest, and thus cementing his value to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
For those reasons (and for his epic post-game interview hair…can’t forget the hair), Vinny Prospal is the Dark Blue Jacket 2013 CBJ Most Valuable Player.