The Tampa Bay Lightning have had solid representation for their franchise throughout their existence. Hockey fans think of Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, and Victor Hedman, to name a few when it comes down to the faces of the organization from the past and in present-day.
One of the best offensive talents to ever suit up for the club does not get as much recognition as some of the players mentioned above despite the fact that he is statistically one of the top for the Lightning in goals, assists, and as a result, overall points. The talent being referred to is former NHL veteran Vaclav Prospal, also known as Vinny. He spent a total of 16 seasons in the league, with parts of six of those donning Tampa’s sweater. He may have played his career with a total of seven NHL clubs; however, he arguably made the biggest impact during his days as a Bolt.
Providing Offensive Stability in Tampa
Prospal started his NHL career with the Philadelphia Flyers. He was drafted by them as a third-round selection (71st overall) in 1993 and made his debut for them during the 1996-97 season. He would not be in the City of Brotherly Love for long, as the following campaign saw the Flyers ship him to the Ottawa Senators. The full trade was Vinny along with Pat Falloon and a 1998 second-round pick to the Senators in exchange for 1993 1st overall pick Alexandre Daigle.
Prospal’s time in Ottawa was the first time he was able to hit his offensive stride, as he posted 22 goals and 33 assists for 55 points in 79 games during his second full campaign with the club (1999-00). That was good for fourth on the squad in points, but to be fair, he was among good company. The three Senators ahead of him were Radek Bonk (60 points), Daniel Alfredsson (59), and 2020 Hockey Hall of Famer Marian Hossa (56). There was much promise to Vinny’s game.
However, Prospal was yet again dealt in 2000-01, this time to the Florida Panthers. He had a short stint there, putting up 16 points in 34 games (4 goals and 12 assists) before joining Tampa Bay the following season. At this point, some hockey fans probably figured he had hit his potential ceiling as a talent. Despite a 55-point season with the Senators a couple of seasons prior, there was not enough from him overall. Some fans might have wondered whether that 55-point campaign was just a really good year for him and not what his normal production would be. Certain factors played a role in his career at this point, too, such as injuries he dealt with. The Lightning were going to see what they could bring out of Vinny and if they would have more success doing so than any other club before them.
The short answer to this is yes.
While other big-name talents grabbed much of the hockey world’s attention on the Lightning like St. Louis, Lecavalier, and defenseman Dan Boyle, Prospal finally hit the offensive potential he hinted at when he was with Ottawa, and he did it on a consistent basis. In the 2001-02 season, Vinny notched 18 goals and 37 assists for 55 points in 81 games, tying his career-high in overall season scoring.
This was only the beginning of what he was able to accomplish as a Bolt. He played a significant role on the team in parts of six out of seven campaigns (he spent the 2003-04 season with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and returned to the Flyers for part of 2007-08). He notched the following in Tampa:
- 2001-02: 18 goals and 37 assists for 55 points in 81 games
- 2002-03: 22 goals and 57 assists for 79 points in 80 games
- 2005-06: 25 goals and 55 assists for 80 points in 81 games
- 2006-07: 14 goals and 41 assists for 55 points in 82 games
- 2007-08: 29 goals and 28 assists for 57 points in 62 games
- 2008-09: 19 goals and 26 assists for 45 points in 82 games
Unfortunately for Prospal, the only full campaign he missed out on of all of those with the Lightning was that 2003-04 season. If he stayed in the area, his name would be associated with that 2004 Stanley Cup championship squad. Despite that, Vinny still suited up for three postseason runs for the Lightning:
- 2002-03: 4 goals and 2 assists for 6 points in 11 games
- 2005-06: 2 assists in 5 games
- 2006-07: 1 goal and 4 assists for 5 points in 6 games
Prospal went to the Lightning organization on multiple occasions during his career. He played a couple seasons with Tampa and then went to Anaheim in 2003-04 before returning for a couple more seasons as the Lightning traded back for him. Then, the team traded him to Philadelphia for defenseman Alexandre Picard and a 2009 second-round draft pick. After that, Vinny re-signed with the Lightning in the following summer as a free agent. He kept finding his way back to the organization.
His Post-Tampa Career & Stamp on Lightning Hockey
After the conclusion of the 2008-09 campaign, Prospal left Tampa for the final time of his career as the team bought out the remaining years on his contract. He inked a one-year deal with the New York Rangers in what was a busy offseason for the club in 2009, as they also landed star winger Marian Gaborik with a five-year contract.
Vinny fit in well among a cast of players, including Gaborik as well as Brandon Dubinsky, Michael Del Zotto, and Ryan Callahan, among others. He produced significantly for the Blueshirts, scoring the most points of anyone on the team besides Gaborik. This led to a one-year extension to him by then-Rangers general manager Glen Sather.
Prospal finished his playing time in Columbus with the Blue Jackets. He played two campaigns there, accumulating 28 goals and 57 assists for 85 points in 130 regular-season matchups. Vinny then announced his retirement in 2014. He finished his overall NHL tenure with 1,108 regular-season games played, 255 goals, 510 assists, and a total of 765 points.
With as much firepower the Lightning have had over their history, Prospal, to this day, remains in the top 10 for overall points. He is eighth on that list with 371, although current Bolts’ Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn are not too far behind surpassing him. In franchise goals, Vinny is tenth with 127, as Brayden Point passed that total and currently has 138 to go to ninth all-time. As for assists, Vinny is eighth with 244. Ninth and tenth on that list right now are Johnson and Killorn as well.
Over the course of their time in the NHL, Tampa Bay has had a lot of skilled talent represent their club and city. Some made more of an impact during their tenures than others. While Prospal may not be talked about as often as others who have gone to battle for them, he still left quite an imprint with the team. Other players gained more of the attention on the Lightning while Vinny was there, but he held up his end of the scoring too.
He provided offensive depth and could be relied upon to break through as another complementary asset when others like St. Louis, Lecavalier, or Brad Richards were ever stifled by opposing defenses. Vinny is remembered for the offensive force he was, and he made Tampa that much more lethal each time they took the ice throughout the 2000s.
I have been a hockey fan for most of my life, and have played the game myself for more than six years. I graduated from the State University of New York at Oswego in 2018, with a bachelor’s in Broadcasting & Mass Communication. Previous positions held include being a Sports Analyst for Oswego’s student-run TV station, WTOP-10; News/Sports Intern for WIVB-TV Channel 4; and Sports Beat Writer Intern for Pro Player Insiders.