With several teams looking to bolster their goaltending for next season, they’ve evidently paid attention to a team that has a pair of good youngsters in Columbus. In the latest Insider Trading, Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic reports that the Blue Jackets are listening to offers on both Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins.
The decision to not replace Sergei Bobrovsky (who signed with Florida in free agency last summer) with a veteran carried some risk given Korpisalo’s inexperience and the fact that Merzlikins had yet to play in the NHL. However, it proved to be a great call as Columbus allowed the third-fewest goals in the league this season and both netminders took turns carrying the workload.
Merzlikins had the better numbers between the two with a 2.35 GAA and a .923 SV% while Korpisalo checked in at 2.60 and .911 respectively but he had the slightly bigger workload with 35 starts compared to 31 for Merzlikins. He also received the majority of the starts in the playoffs, getting nine of the ten games and played quite well, posting a 1.96 GAA and a .941 SV%. Along the way, he set an NHL record for saves in a playoff game with 85.
This is a situation where Columbus can comfortably wait things out if they don’t get the price they’re looking for. The 26-year-olds are signed for two more years (Korpisalo at $4MM, Merzlikins at $2.8MM), a more than affordable tandem compared to many others around the league. Considering that both are still inexperienced, there’s value in keeping both around as well, especially with an expectation of a more compressed schedule for 2020-21.
Having said that, the trade value for both of their goalies should be pretty high considering how they played this season and their affordable contracts so the time for GM Jarmo Kekalainen to strike could very well be now if he can get his price. LeBrun notes that the price appears to be a top-six center that would play behind pending restricted free agent Pierre-Luc Dubois.
If Columbus winds up moving either Korpisalo or Merzlikins, there is certainly no shortage of available free agent goalies that they could choose from while they could also opt to promote from within again and give Matiss Kivlenieks the number two spot. The pending restricted free agent played in six NHL games this season and would come in cheaper than any free agent available, allowing them to preserve more cap room as they try to lock up Dubois to a long-term deal.
The Blue Jackets certainly don’t have to move one of their netminders but if they can use one to fill a hole that they’ve had for a few years now, it would certainly give them a boost while shaking up the rest of the goalie market in the process.