Elvis Merzlikins Is Saying The Right Things, But His Words Must Be More Than Lip Service For The Blue Jackets To Be Successful

By Ed Francis on April 17, 2023 at 1:45 pm
There's no other way to say it: Elvis Merzlikins has to be better next season.
© Jason Mowry-USA TODAY Sports

There were 75 goalies in the NHL that appeared in at least 15 games in the recently completed 2022-23 season.

And near the bottom of that pile in nearly every statistic was the Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins.

In the first year of a five-year, $27 million dollar contract, Merzlikins' stats stuck out like a sore thumb: the 29-year-old ranked 73rd in save percentage (.876), 74th in goals against average (4.23), and dead last in goals against versus expected goals against (-0.99; more than 11% worst than the second-to-last and nearly 30% worse than third from the bottom). 

"I'm the first one who is going to say that I was awful," said Merzlikins in his media availability over the weekend. "I wasn't the best."

Truer words never spoken.

It wasn't just the gaudy numbers that made this season one to forget for Merzlikins — he also acknowledges that his inability to stay healthy was a part of the problem. 

"Too many injuries; too many ups and downs," said Merzlikins.

"(I'm) going to work on everything that I can with our medical staff and our trainers," he added. "They know how to get you better and stronger. I don't want to have any injuries anymore."

Injuries and illnesses sidelined the netminder on at least four confirmed occasions this year and forced him to miss both the first and last game of the season. He appeared in just 30 games for the season, but only played more than 40 minutes in 22 of them. 

Injuries weren't limited to Merzlikins, and injuries to key defensemen Zach Werenski, Jake Bean (amongst many others, both short and long term) certainly didn't help the Latvian goalie. But Joonas Korpisalo played significantly better in front of the same defense — enough to be part of a trade package in which Columbus received a first round draft pick in exchange.

Bright spots were very few and far between. Merzlikins faced more than 20 shots on goal in 25 games this season and gave up no less than three goals in any of them. Even the wins left something to be desired: in his seven victories, he had a save percentage below the .904 league average for this season in four of them. He defeated just two teams in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and in those two starts, gave up eight goals. 

Merzlikins vows to be the best version of himself yet by the time the 2023-24 comes around. "I am excited (for) this summer," he said. "I'm gonna torture myself."

"I'm going to become the best. I'm going to work my ass off, stronger and harder than last summer, and I have big plans. Bigger than last year." 

Among those plans is skipping playing for his home country of Latvia in the IIHF World Championship in May. Merzlikins acknowledges that he would like to go, but that it's Columbus who is "bringing the bread home." 

"I need to give them back what they're paying for."

Merzlikins isn't just the highest paid goalie in the Blue Jackets organization; he's the 4th highest paid player in the organization, trailing only Johnny Gaudreau, Zach Werenski, and Patrik Laine.

"It's time to grow up. It's time to step it up," said Merzlikins. "I need to become a leader."

It's also time to prove that these words are more than just words.

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