After burning his entry-level contract without actually suiting up in a game, Elvis Merzlikins has signed another deal. The Columbus Blue Jackets signed the goaltender to a one-year extension for the 2019-20 season. Aaron Portzline of The Athletic reports that the deal is worth $874,125 at the NHL level
Merzlikins, 25, was originally selected by the Blue Jackets in 2014 but has waited in Switzerland biding his time and developing into one of the best non-NHL goaltenders in the world. The Latvian netminder posted excellent numbers in the NLA year after year, but finally came over to the Blue Jackets in March and signed a one-year entry-level deal. That contract was burned immediately despite Merzlikins only practicing with the team, but he’ll surely get more than optional skates next season.
With Sergei Bobrovsky expected to move on to a different locale in free agency this summer, the path to a starting role in Columbus has never been more open. Merzlikins could very well be that starter next season, though the team still has Joonas Korpisalo in the organization. Korpisalo is scheduled to become a restricted free agent on July 1st, a date that actually comes with an interesting CBA quirk. As CapFriendly points out, NHL organizations are required to have at least three goaltenders under contract at all times. With Korpisalo, Bobrovsky, Keith Kinkaid, and Jean-Francois Berube all hitting free agency this summer the team only had Daniil Tarasov and Matiss Kivlenieks with deals for 2019-20.
If Merzlikins is given the job in Columbus, it wouldn’t exactly be handed to a goaltender without experience. While he may have never played in the NHL, the 6’3″ netminder has played against top competition for years internationally. Representing Latvia at World Junior, World Championship and even Olympic qualifying tournaments, he has routinely kept top scorers at bay. In Switzerland he has been named the Goaltender of the Year multiple times while posting save percentages somewhere between .913-.924 year after year.
Interestingly, Merzlikins will be a restricted free agent once again in 2020. The short-term deal is likely the best option for both sides, with the player wanting to prove his worth at the NHL level and the team not willing to commit to an unproven goaltender.