With the unofficial off-season coming sooner than expected, there is no better time than now to examine the goaltending conundrum that the Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves in regarding Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo. While it could be argued on paper that having two starter quality goaltenders, that does not always work out in practice.
Elvis Merzlikins vs Joonas Korpisalo – A Blue Jackets Goalie Conundrum
Looking at Last Season
The 2019-20 season, while it is not officially over, was a very exciting and interesting one for the Blue Jackets. They were projected by many to struggle heavily this season. Those projections included being far-out of any playoff talks. This, however, did not turn out to be the case.
This was in large part due to stellar goaltending by both Merzlikins and Korpisalo. Both goaltenders had a period where doubt crept in as to whether the could cut it, and both dispelled that doubt with exuberance.
The stories of the two netminders were similar in ways, but also different in just as many. Korpisalo, 25, spent the first four seasons of his NHL career as the primary backup to former Blue Jacket great Sergei Bobrovsky. During this time he showed flashes of brilliance and periods of poor play. So to say that many were unsure as to whether he could take the reigns would be putting it lightly.
Doubts of Merzlikins, 25, came in a very different manner. Many in the organization and fan base were extremely excited to see how his success in the Swiss league could translate to the North American style of hockey. Despite this excitement, Elvis Merzlikins struggled heavily to start, taking until his ninth start of the season to get his first win. This led many to start jumping off the Latvian bandwagon.
While both would have periods of doubt, neither would last all that long. This has left the Columbus Blue Jackets in a bit of a goaltending conundrum.
The Rise of Goaltending in Columbus
As stated above, all doubt that was previously creeping in for both goaltenders has been dispelled and is a vague memory now.
Korpisalo did this by exploding out of an early-season slump and catapulting up the wins ranks. He led the NHL at one point before going down with a lower-body injury against the Chicago Blackhawks on December 29. Before this injury, his play was enough to earn an All-Star selection, something well worth calming the nerves of the fans in his first full season taking over for Bobrovsky.
This did not end up being the sole rise of the season. When Korpisalo went down, Columbus was once again written off as a team that had no hope. And given the fact that Elvis Merzlikins did not even look like he could perform at the NHL level and the lack of scoring the Jackets had produced, there wasn’t much room for arguing that.
And much like Korpisalo, Merzlikins did a fine job of ridding his name of doubt. He went from 0-4-4 at the time of December 29 to a respectable 13-9-8, going 13-5-4 after that date. On top of that, Merzlikins also was seventh in the NHL with goalies with 20-plus starts to date in save percentage (.923).
Needless to say, there was no longer any reason to doubt either of their credentials as NHL level goaltenders.
Show Me The Money
This off-season is going to be an interesting one for the Blue Jackets. This is especially given the fact that both Korpisalo and Merzlikins are going to be restricted free agents. With both in the prime period of their career, this could mean a decent chunk of change going towards goaltending going into 2020-21.
Korpisalo is sure to get a raise from his current $1.15 million cap hit. This is largely thanks to an All-Star selection the proof that he can handle the weight as a starter. And with Merzlikins also proving, albeit in a small sample size, that he has serious talent, he should also see a decent bump in money.
How big of a raise each sees is up for debate. Korpisalo has a larger sample size than his Latvian companion. This should mean he will surely see a bump into the mid $2 million range. Merzlikins shouldn’t be far off that number as well.
Big Decisions Ahead
Deciding between one or the other is a tough call, especially with both goaltenders being in their prime years. The most prudent decision would be to give each of the goalies a bump in pay and term and split time next season, allowing for a bigger sample size to make an educated decision on who is right to lead the franchise going forward.
While this may sound anticlimactic, the best possible route is to spend a bit of extra money. To see out the situation. As the saying goes, only the strongest survive. This should fully apply to how the Blue Jackets determine their goaltending future.