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A move that everybody seemed to think was coming finally happened yesterday, as the Columbus Blue Jackets inked winger Vaclav Prospal to a one-year/$1.75 million contract.  Prospal’s closing in on 1000 NHL games, but he can still add scoring punch to any club’s line-up and with Kristian Huselius expected to miss half of 2011-12 the Blue Jackets needed to find a replacement.

Tom Reed over at Puck-Rakers makes the case for why this is an excellent signing by the Blue Jackets, citing not only Prospal’s power play abilities but also his “competitiveness, passion and skill.”

One point that I feel needs to be made is this: Prospal had an awful 2010-11.  He was still able to rack up the point totals (both his 5.16 PTS/60 on the power play and his 2.22 PTS/60 at even-strength were elite numbers), but he was also playing incredibly favourable minutes (one of the lowest quality of competition numbers on the team, and at 67.2% one of the best zone-starts in the league) and his line still managed to get outshot badly.

Personally, I think Prospal will rebound; the fact that he put up that sort of offensive production is a big positive, and given that knee surgery kept him off the ice until February, I think we can assume that his defensive game will rebound.  Certainly it has been significantly better as recently as 2009-10, so while there’s some risk in this signing I think it is entirely justifiable.

In all likelihood, with Prospal the Blue Jackets will get a slightly worse offensive player and a much better defensive player than we saw in 2010-11.  Prospal’s point totals last year at both even-strength and with the man advantage were above his career averages; he’s a useful offensive player in all situations but not the game-breaker that last season’s numbers would suggest.  Defensively, he isn’t going to win a Selke any time soon, but he’s been much better over the course of his career than he was last season.

Despite Reed’s optimism, what I don’t see Prospal as is an upgrade on Huselius.  Even playing on the Blue Jackets’ lousy power play, Huselius has averaged between 4.0 – 4.5 points for every 60 minutes of 5-on-4 time over the last three seasons.  That’s roughly 0.5 – 1.0 points per 60 better than Prospal.  Huselius is also a slightly better offensive player at even-strength.

Prospal isn’t the player that’s going to shift the Blue Jackets’ fortunes; that responsibility by and large will fall to Jeff Carter, James Wisniewski, and (hopefully) improved goaltending.  He’s going to help ease the loss of Huselius, and when Huselius returns to the line-up he’s going to help the team have a more diverse and balanced attack.