The final installment of our “roster reset” series focuses between the pipes.
And while it’s accurate to say there isn’t much competition at the top of the Blue Jackets' goaltending food chain, the picture behind Sergei Bobrovsky is far from a finished product.
Bobrovsky is coming off the best season of his career, a 41-win campaign that resulted in his second Vezina Trophy – pretty impressive for an undrafted kid out of Russia that’s not yet 30 years old. When the Blue Jackets are winning, it’s likely that Bobrovsky is on top of his game, and he can single-handedly mask many shortcomings of his team.
For the next two years, Bobrovsky is locked in at $7.425 million annually, a relative bargain for a player considered by many to be a top-five goalie in the NHL. What happens next, however, is a completely different story; thanks to Carey Price’s $84 million, decade-long pact with the Montreal Canadiens, the elite goaltenders' contract market is getting another shake-up.
That conversation, however, is best fit for another day.
The Blue Jackets have stability at the top of their goaltending depth chart, but where the certainty stops is the backup position. GM Jarmo Kekalainen expressed confidence in young Joonas Korpisalo on two occasions this summer: first, by signing him to a two-year extension worth $1.8 million, and then, working a deal with the Vegas Golden Knights to steer them clear in the expansion draft.
So, entering camp, it’s Bobrovsky at No. 1 and Korpisalo backing him up. Beyond that, what are the Blue Jackets’ options?
1 – SERGEI BOBROVSKY
A tumultuous 2015-16 season proved to be a motivator for Bobrovsky this year, a long one that began in Toronto for the World Cup of Hockey (where he was tremendous for Russia) and bled right over into the NHL schedule. He lost confidence, expressed regret that his performance played a role in Todd Richards’ firing, and admitted that he needed to do some soul-searching to get his game back. After 41 wins and a sterling .931 save percentage, Bobrovsky bounced back in a big way and cemented his status as not only the Blue Jackets’ No. 1 guy, but one of the top goaltenders in the game.
2 – JOONAS KORPISALO
The big Finn burst on the scene in 2015-16 when Bobrovsky battled injuries and the Blue Jackets needed someone to carry the mail. John Tortorella took a liking to him right away, and said he was a fan of Korpisalo’s short memory and mental toughness in the net. After a strong NHL stint, Korpisalo was hit-and-miss for the Cleveland Monsters during their playoff run and was supplanted by Anton Forsberg, who was recently traded to Chicago as part of the Artemi Panarin/Brandon Saad deal. He will get another chance this season to get regular playing time (20-25 starts is the target) and lock down the No. 2 role behind Bobrovsky.
3 – MATISS KIVLENIEKS
The reigning USHL goaltender of the year and player of the year, the Blue Jackets have high hopes for the young Latvian netminder. It’s expected that, barring another acquisition between now and training camp, Kivlenieks will enter the season as the Monsters’ No. 1 goaltender and get the bulk of playing time. Unproven? Absolutely, but to this point, there’s a lot to like about Kivlenieks and his ability to impact a game from the goaltender position. He’s got size, athleticism and the scrappy approach we’ve come to expect from Latvian netminders over the last few years.
4 – BRAD THIESSEN
It’s hard to find a player in the Blue Jackets/Cleveland organizational pipeline that’s had a more bizarre last two seasons than Thiessen. The journeyman has found a home with the Monsters of late, and when Korpisalo and Forsberg spent time in Columbus in 2015-16, he was responsible for keeping the train on the tracks as Cleveland barreled into the Calder Cup playoffs. He has been in Cleveland then to Cincinnati and back more often than he can probably count, but it has not affected his play as Thiessen (who earned his first career win against the Blue Jackets a few years back while with the Penguins) continues to provide a steady hand in goal.
Next wave: Elvis Merzlikins (under contract with HC Lugano through 2018-19), Peter Thome (USHL)