A Closer Look at Whether or Not the Blue Jackets Are Prepared to Give the Net to Two Unproven Goalies

By Ben Jandrain on June 28, 2019 at 8:05 am
Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo secures the puck during a game against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in December of 2018.
Danny Wild- USA TODAY Sports

Columbus will have a big decision to make when it comes to how they go about their goalie situation when July comes around.  Will the team stick with who they got, or add another player between the pipes in free agency?

Sergei Bobrovsky going to a new team is essentially a foregone conclusion. Both Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene leaving town appears to be a strong possibility as well.  

Head coach John Tortorella already hinted at how things could be different with less-experienced players in net this upcoming campaign during an episode of "Hockey and Hounds".

"We may have young goaltenders that are gonna be taking over that position," Tortorella said.  "I have to start thinking about just a little bit of a change of style of play in order to protect them a little bit to get their feet wet."

After making the postseason the past three seasons, it might take more than just a new strategy to keep the fans happy with newfound expectations.

Relying on the top-two guys in position to take over the reigns in the post-Bobrovsky era sounds like a good plan. That is, as long at least one of them rises to the occasion. 

Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo have a lot in common. They each are 25-year old goaltenders and were born only 15 days apart.  As for their salaries for the Columbus Blue Jackets this upcoming season; Merzlikins has an average annual value of $874,125 and Korpisalo's AAV comes in at $900,000. 

Despite the similarities of the two goalies, their paths to the 2019-20 season were quite different, making it a tougher task to decide who's the frontrunner to become the next franchise player of the future in net for the CBJ:

Joonas Korpisalo

Korpisalo has played in 90 games in his four-year career in the National Hockey League thus far, all with Columbus. 

His first season was his busiest and most productive to date. In the 2015-16 campaign, Korpisalo played in 31 games, had a .920 save % and posted a 16-11-4 record.  

Since then, things have been rocky for Korpisalo, who's put up a .897 SV% the past two seasons and struggled to find consistency while in a backup role.  

Korpisalo seemed to be a player who would've improved by now, but hasn't stuck out in the crowd on the ice, with only one shutout in 81 starts for the Jackets. 

More playing time this fall and winter might prove Korpisalo is the man for the job, or it could be the sign that it's time to move on.

Elvis Merzlikins  

Merzlikins received player-of-the-year honors for Latvia in 2018 and has played in over 200 career games for HC Lugano, a team from Switzerland in the National League. 

Merzlikins has had an identical .921 SV% in his past two campaigns with HC Lugano and made some noise in the 2018 World Championships, with a 1.50 goals-allowed average in six games.  

Despite having no experience in the NHL yet, the hype is real for Merzlikins, who many believe will make life without Bobrovsky not so bad after all.  Hopefully all the action overseas pays off.

Free-agent possibilities 

Jarmo Kekalainen might make an offer to a free agent for depth at the goaltending position. With two young goalies at the top of the depth chart, adding a starter between the pipes would constitute as more than just insurance, but might not be a necessity of the contract is too pricey.

Here are a few goaltenders who fight the fit the mold:

Robin Lehner

Lehner's best aspect might be his low floor. In his past six seasons, the 27-year old veteran has started at least 21 games and hasn't had a SV% below .905.  Lehner may be out of the Jackets' price range, however after a .930 SV% and 2.13 GAA with the New York Islanders this past season, making his $1.5 Million AAV a number that's sure to see a healthy increase. 

Petr Mrazek & Curtis McElhinney

Mrazek and McElhinney occupied the net for the Carolina Hurricanes, who made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019.

Mrazek saw limited time in net his first two seasons, but has been in the league for nine years now.  Mrazek is coming off a 23-14-3 campaign highlighted by a 2.39 GAA and a game-seven victory on the road to eliminate the Washington Capitals from playoff contention.  Mrazek also had a $1.5 million AAV. At age 27, he's likely gonna see a pay raise after some quality playoff experience (started 11 of 15 postseason games for the Canes).

McElhinney has started 66 games for Columbus in his career and might be making a return to the Jackets after a solid year with Carolina. McElhinney turned 36 last month, but won 20 of his 32 starts and had a .912 SV%. The journeyman got even better in the playoffs, with three victories and a .930 SV%. McElhinney might be the best option for the Jackets. He'll probably be pretty affordable judging his AAV was at $800,000 last season. With Columbus hoping to make Korpisalo or Merzlikins the no.1 guy in the future, McElhinney seems to make the most sense for the short-term if free agency is the route taken.  

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