If Sergei Bobrovsky winds up leaving Columbus in free agency this summer as many anticipate, it shouldn’t be considered a sure bet that the Blue Jackets will look to replace him. Speaking with Aaron Portzline of The Athletic (subscription required), GM Jarmo Kekalainen indicated that the team is comfortable running with Joonas Korpisalo and rookie Elvis Merzlikins as their goalie tandem for next season:
It’s going to be a competition between those two unless something else happens. And if that’s what we have for our two goalies at the start of the training camp, we’re totally fine with it.
Korpisalo has long been viewed as the goalie of the future in Columbus and he has had flashes of dominant stretches in his young career. However, he has also struggled at times as well and has posted identical .897 save percentage marks over the past two seasons. That number falls below the league average which isn’t the most ideal from a potential starting goalie. The 25-year-old will be a restricted free agent this summer and given the uncertainty surrounding his role for the upcoming season, Portzline notes that a one-year contract is likely. He will still have one season of RFA eligibility after that.
Meanwhile, Merzlikins has been viewed as one of the top goalies outside of North America for the past few years and recently inked a one-year deal for next season. However, he has yet to play on the smaller ice surface so it’s certainly possible that he could need some time to adjust in the minors first. However, given how he has performed in the Swiss NLA, it’s also possible that he could step in and make a big impact right away.
Kekalainen is no stranger to high risk, high reward gambles considering how he went all in at the trade deadline. If he opts to go with a largely unproven tandem of Korpisalo and Merzlikins next season, he’ll be making another one for next season.