The Blue Jackets Have Reached a Crossroads With Their Goaltenders, So Who Will Be The One Staying?

By Jacob Nitzberg on May 10, 2021 at 3:02 pm
Aug 6, 2020; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (70) heads for the bench as he is replaced by goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) during the second period against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Eastern Conference qualifications at Scotiabank Arena.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

It's simple math.

The Blue Jackets have two goalies who have shown that they can handle the responsibilities of being a starting goaltender in the NHL, and a lack of offense. With Kivlenieks able to fill the role of a backup, and Daniil Tarasov continuing his development, the time is ripe for the front office to move Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins.

"Both of our goalies are going into the last year of their contract, and they'll become UFAs, so there are some decisions we have to make," said Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen on Monday morning. "I was very pleased with how Matiss (Kivlenieks) played the last couple of games here. We've always believed that he can be an NHL goalie. We've got Daniil Tarasov here now, who we think is an excellent prospect, a 6-foot-6 goaltender who's got all kinds of athletic ability and has a similar work ethic to Sergei Bobrovsky. We're very excited about that position, we think it's a strength of ours, and it'll give us some good options."

The Max Domi experiment in Columbus hasn't gone exactly according to plan, and Pierre-Luc Dubois is gone. Those two dominos falling leave the Blue Jackets without reliable options at the center position. Jack Roslovic was excellent at times this season, tallying 21-22-34 in 48 games, but he's still got a lot to work on defensively and in the face-off circle. 

"Korpi wants to play, I want to play. Sharing the net isn't the best for our future."– Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins

That begs the million-dollar question: could Kekalainen be working on a package to acquire disgruntled superstar Jack Eichel from the Buffalo Sabres? That franchise is in all kinds of discombobulation after a woeful season, and it's no secret that Eichel is unhappy there. 

"There's been a bit of a disconnect from the organization a bit and myself. It's been tough at times," Eichel said in his exit interview on Monday. "Right now, I think for me the most important thing is just trying to get healthy and figure out a way to be available to play hockey next year wherever that might be."

Both Korpisalo and Merzlikins are in agreement on one thing: they both want to be a number one goalie, and they both understand that it won't happen in Columbus unless one of them moves. 

"It's going to be an interesting summer, I think...nobody's stupid here," said Merzlikins on Monday morning during his exit interview. "We understand that there's two number one goalies on one team...Korpi wants to play, I want to play. Sharing the net isn't the best for our future. It's going to be an interesting summer, but on the same side, it's going to be a nervous summer. The way things work here, today you are here, tomorrow, you are away. I don't know what's going to happen."

Korpisalo was more diplomatic with his response, but he still acknowledged that a potential trade is looming. He tries to block it out, though.

"Stuff like that is in the air, but it's something I can't control," said Korpisalo during his exit interview on Monday morning. "This summer is going to be the best summer of my career, trying to get back, better as ever. That's the only thing I can control, trying to work my ass off to be better this summer and come in next season to be the best myself...I just think about the stuff I can focus on."

It certainly will be an "interesting summer," like Merzlikins said. The Blue Jackets have contract negotiations, three first-round draft picks, and several other things to attend to. It'll be fascinating to see how the club goes about it.

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