Bounce Back Korpi: Joonas Korpisalo Is Making A Strong Case That He's Still Got It

By Ed Francis on January 9, 2023 at 1:45 pm
A year ago, Joonas Korpisalo's time as a Blue Jacket seemed to be in its final days. Now, he's earned the role of top netminder in Columbus.
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

There was a time, not that long ago, that any start would be Joonas Korpisalo's last as a Columbus Blue Jacket.

How the tables turn.

Korpisalo had slowly been phased out as the primary netminder for the Blue Jackets by the play (and the fanfare) for Elvis Merzlikins over the Covid era. When Merzlikins signed a five-year, $27 million extension in September of 2021, it became a foregone conclusion that Korpi's time in Columbus was on borrowed time.

But the inconsistent play last season of Merzlikins, combined with the lack of a strong trade market for an also-struggling and then injured Korpisalo, led to the Blue Jackets hanging on to their goalie.

At seasons end, Korpisalo surprisingly signed a one-year extension with the club. It was a sign of a few things: that the club wanted young Daniil Tarasov to spend more time in Cleveland, that there wasn't a viable depth option available to them, and arguably that there was not full confidence in Merzlikins to handle the starting role, health or otherwise.

The team-friendly contract is proving valuable, as Korpisalo — who again will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season — has been the best option for the Blue Jackets in a mostly dreadful season.

With a comparable number of games played, Korpi's 3.10 goals against average in 17 games is significantly better than Merzlikins' 4.52 (16 games), and marginally better Tarasov's 3.40 (12 games). For the analytics crowd, it's Korpisalo who has the highest expected goals against average (3.57, compared to Tarasov's 3.34 and Merzlikins' 3.08), making the fact that's performing best even more noteworthy. 

The 28-year-old also has the been save percentage of the three, with his .913 just above Tarasov (.907) and well above Merzlikins (.865). Of the 66 goalies with ten or more appearances this season, Korpisalo's .913 checks in at 22nd best. It's nothing to write home about, but is again better than the other two (Tarasov is 29th, Merzlikins in last at 66th). Combine that with the fact that Korpisalo missed the first few weeks of the season when the Blue Jackets defense was healthy and again, it becomes clear that Korpisalo has been the best option between the pipes at Nationwide Arena this season.

Through 39 games this season, the Blue Jackets are yet to pitch a shutout and have allowed one goal in only five games. Korpisalo started three of those games, and made 12 saves in 12 shots in a fourth game after Merzlikins left with an injury. The fifth start belonged to Tarasov.

Whether or not the Blue Jackets winning games in a lost season is a good thing or not is certainly up for debate, but allowing six-plus goals in a game isn't good for anyone — and they've done that more times this season (seven) than the one-goal allowed performances. 

The question will now again turn to whether or not Columbus would be wise to move Korpisalo at the deadline. A pending free agent, Korpisalo is proving his worth to a team looking to make a playoff run that needs better goaltending. It's too early to tell what the trade market will look like, but general manager Jarmo Kekalainen will be faced with a decision sooner rather than later when it comes to what to down with his fellow Finland native.

It won't be an easy decision.