SUNRISE — Every now and then, Vinny Prospal said, he and wife Monika sit on the couch in their Westchester County home and bemoan the chilly weather.
"It's cold outside in Westchester," Prospal said Wednesday of the New York City suburb. "We say we could be sitting on the patio in Tampa. But that's the way it goes."
Actually, it's gone pretty well for the ex-Lightning left wing. Bought out of the final three years of his four-year deal seven days after he moved into a new Tampa home in July — a decision that will cost the Lightning $1.17 million a year over six years — Prospal has prospered with the Rangers.
His 24 points are tied for 17th in the league. His 18 assists are tied for 11th. And after finishing minus-20 last season, tied for 880th in the league, Prospal, alternating between center and wing, is plus-6. Rangers coach John Tortorella called him "one of the better free-agent signings."
"Well, I can't complain one bit," Prospal said. "It's been like a dream to me. When I go back to the day I lost my job in Tampa, you go through some thoughts that you may be done in the NHL, or something like that."
Instead, he signed a $1.15 million contract with New York, "and it's been great since the first day of skating," he said.
Prospal, 34, is a different player from the one who struggled last season to 19 goals and 45 points.
At 194 pounds, he is leaner by about 25. He credits Lightning strength coach Chuck Lobe, who last season talked to him about revamping his offseason workout and eating habits. Playing with Marian Gaborik doesn't hurt. The right wing leads the league with 19 goals and entered Thursday tied for first with 33 points. But Tortorella said there is more:
"He's competed (like crazy). He wants to show the organization it was right to bring him in."
And perhaps show his old team of six seasons it was wrong to let him go? "You look at his career … and I think he wants to prove a point," Tortorella said. "There's motivation there."
"You always have something to prove to people," Prospal said. "Sometimes it's good motivation for an individual." He channeled it so well, Tortorella named him an alternate captain:
"He's deserved that," Tortorella said, "for the way he's handled himself."