By signing a contract extension through the 2026-27 season, Elvis Merzlikins and the Columbus Blue Jackets have made a strong and resounding statement.
Both inside and outside the walls of Nationwide Arena, the message helps solidify the notion that NHL players do want to stay in Columbus, as Merzlikins joins Zach Werenski as players signed this offseason through the 2027 season. The signing also signifies to the club, fans, etc. that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and Merzlikins won't be moved during the current re-tool. In fact, quite the contrary. The five-year contract extension worth $27M ($5.4M AAV) means that the Blue Jackets have committed to the Latvian netminder for the next six seasons.
And more than anything, it sends a loud and clear message: Merzlikins is the club's number one goalie of the present and future.
To be fair, this was more or less hinted in April 2020, when he and Joonas Korpisalo both signed identical two-year contracts that expired with each being a UFA... only Merzlikins' deal was for $1.2M more, per season.
Turns out the new contract is incredibly manageable, also, particularly when compared with his contemporaries. Per CapFriendly, there are 12 goalies signed for this season with a cap hit over $5.4M. With a cap hit for the upcoming season at just $4M, Merzlikins is tied for the 23rd highest paid goalie in the league, a bargain by any standard.
Where does Korpisalo fit into the picture? Who can say? It's possible he's traded at or before the trade deadline. It's just as likely that he leaves via UFA next summer. But it's unlikely that he re-signs to play second fiddle behind Merzlikins, particularly after biding his time with the organization where he backed up Sergei Bobrovsky for four seasons.
It's not a stretch to say that there are a handful of teams that are overpaying their goalies in a major way. The Blue Jackets are not one of those teams. How many clubs listed above would pass on signing (or re-signing) their goalie to the above contract if they had a mulligan? By signing Merzlikins to a team-friendly dollar value, they could afford to go out to age his 33 season. Importantly, the 27-year old theoretically has plenty of tire left on the tread. In seven seasons in Switzerland's NLA, he averaged 31 games played in the regular season. And since coming to the NHL, he's played just 61 regular games.
Elvis Merzlikins: "Columbus is the team that chose me in 2014. In my career, I've played (professionally) on just two teams. Now, Columbus is my home. I'm really happy that I'm here, (with) the team who has believed in me and my game." #CBJ— 1st Ohio Battery (@1stOhioBattery) September 22, 2021
Elvis: "I see huge trust in my organization to me. We (he and Korpisalo) are going to push really hard. At the end of the day, we're working for our club and our organization." #CBJ— 1st Ohio Battery (@1stOhioBattery) September 22, 2021
On the one hand, 61 games is a fairly small sample size to be doling out a large financial commitment. On the other, the Blue Jackets are convinced that Merzlikins is their guy - both now and for the foreseeable future.