As the Columbus Blue Jackets wrap up a very disappointing 2020-2021 campaign, there are many questions surrounding the team ahead of the offseason. Some questions were answered on Sunday when the organization decided to mutually part ways with John Tortorella. Tortorella was the team’s head coach for the last six seasons. As exit interviews commenced with the players on Monday, lots of attention has been focused on the current goalie situation in Columbus.
The problem in Columbus isn’t a lack of star goaltenders. Instead, Columbus finds itself with a surplus of starting goaltenders.
Two Players for One Starting Spot
The main culprits of this predicament are Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. Korpisalo is the veteran player between the two as he has started in 147 games compared to Merzlikins’ 54. However, Merzlikins posted a better goals-against average and save percentage this past season.
Korpisalo’s .894 save percentage was the lowest of his career. His 3.30 goals-against average was the second lowest of his six-year career as a Columbus Blue Jacket. Merzlikins, the second-year player, put up slightly lower numbers compared to his rookie campaign. In his second year, he tallied a .916 save percentage and 2.77 goals-against average.
Korpisalo’s nine wins on the year were slightly ahead of Merzlikins’ eight wins this past season. Merzlikins, however, may have won over the hearts of the fans and team with his very emotional postgame press conference on April 22. Following a loss, Merzlikins said he was “tired of losing.” He would later add that all of the losing was bothering him as a player. The fans felt for him after hearing the frustration in his voice. With Korpisalo down with an injury at the time, all eyes were on Merzlikins.
All eyes may currently be on Merzlikins, but it wasn’t long ago when Korpisalo was in contention for a Vezina Trophy or stopped 85 shots in a five-overtime game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2020 NHL Playoffs. At the end of the day, Columbus has two great options for starting goalie in between the pipes.
Weighing Their Options
The Columbus Blue Jackets could handle this situation a few different ways.
They could go with Korpisalo, the established veteran with a $2.8 million cap hit that is $1.2 million less than Merzlikins. They could deal Merzlikins to a team in need of a goalie and get solid assets in return.
If they went with Merzlikins, they would be relying on a player who has already recorded seven career shutouts in two seasons and is still showing signs of improvement in his game. This could result in Korpisalo being dealt in a trade. In either scenario, trading one of the goalies could address some of the team’s other needs particularly on the offensive end.
The Blue Jackets could opt to keep both of them and have one of the best goaltending duos in the NHL. GM Jarmo Kekalainen has a very important decision ahead of himself in the near future.
Another Goalie on the Horizon
Matiss Kivlenieks started the final two games of the 2020-2021 season for the Columbus Blue Jackets. While he posted decent stats, his game appeared to not be NHL ready just yet. The goalie prospect that has caught the attention of everyone in the Columbus organization is Daniil Tarasov, the 22-year-old Russian prospect.
In the KHL this year, Tarasov posted an 11-3-2 record, a 2.07 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. Recently, Tarasov joined the Cleveland Monsters, the AHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He has started in four games for the Monsters and has won three of his four starts. If Tarasov can continue his progression, he could be in contention for a roster spot as early as next year for the Columbus Blue Jackets.