Prospal is one of only a handful of current players who were around during the 1994-1995 lockout, the first under commissioner Gary Bettman. He played for the Tampa Bay Lightning at the time. Only Jaromir Jagr has been through all three lockouts as well as the players’ strike in the 1992-1993 season.
“When I think about it, it actually makes me angry,” Prospal said Monday after an informal practice with teammates at the Ohio Health IceHaus. “Those are the seasons that you’re never going to get back.”
Prospal knows the crux of the contention between the league and the NHLPA in this fight, and he feels he knows exactly where the blame lies:
The game has never been at a higher level. The fans, the exposure … the circus that comes around the actual games, it’s never been bigger. It’s an unreal amount of money we’re generating every year, and it’s growing. That’s the part that makes my mind wonder.
We have one guy [Bettman] who keeps saying we have the greatest fans in the world, but this could seriously bite them in the butt. They might end up paying a hefty price for it this time. Some people live for this sport, and this is no way to treat them.
For Prospal, things are different this time compared to the last two lockouts. He’s now 37 years old, has two school-age children and has made his home in the Columbus area with plans on staying with the club even after he retires. The lockout could hasten his desire to hang up the skates for good. Prospal sees that he has two decisions to make if the lockout erases the season: one to play in the Czech Republic, as he did last time, and the other to retire.
“I’ve been away from my family a lot in my career,” Prospal said. “I want to be with them. So it’s not an easy call. We’ll make it [the decision to play in the Czech Republic] together…God forbid this goes through another year. I know I’m closer to the end of my career than the beginning. Let’s put it this way: If we miss this whole season, I don’t think the older guys will be a priority to be signed next season.”
Blue Jackets fans who have come to embrace Prospal would be heartbroken if they’ve seen the last of one of their favorites. But he knows this is a make or break situation for himself and many players. It would be a shame to see his career end this way.