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What Do the Blue Jackets Do with the Backup Goaltender Position?

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A look at some possible options for the Blue Jackets going forward.

Columbus Blue Jackets v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Jen Fuller/Getty Images

When the Columbus Blue Jackets waived Curtis McElhinney recently, the front office officially opened the competition between Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo and decided to address head on the most glaring roster spot remaining: who is the long term backup to Sergei Bobrovsky? McElhinney, in the last year of his contract, was waived as he was not viewed as the long term solution behind Bobrovsky. The million dollar question, now, is: who will be?

The first two candidates up are the prospects from Cleveland: Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo. Let’s take a look at their resumes.

Anton Forsberg

Forsberg got the first crack at replacing Sergei Bobrovsky last week in Carolina after Bob went out with the flu. Forsberg was called up after 10 starts in last spring’s AHL playoffs. In 22 games with the Monsters this season, he has posted a 2.14 GAA and a .930 SV%. The 24 year old made the start and earned the loss, giving up 4 goals while posting just a .852 SV%. He was then sent back down to Cleveland, and Torts was visibly frustrated with his play on the bench and after the game. Up next was Joonas Korpisalo, who had played well – not extremely well, but adequately – in relief of Bobrovsky last season, but was hampered through training camp this year with an injury.

Joonas Korpisalo

Korpisalo got the start in Tampa Bay, and kept the team in the game as the Jackets found their legs en route to the win. Korpisalo has posted a 2.99 GAA and a .900 SV% in Celeveland this year. Last year, in 31 games in relief of Bobrovsky, Korpisalo posted a 2.60 GAA and a .920 SV% with the Blue Jackets. Korpisalo played well in his first start (against Tampa, allowing 1 goal and posting a .969 SV%) before coming back to earth against the Florida Panthers (allowing 4 goals and posting a .875 SV%).

Korpisalo appears to have the inside track among the two right now at winning the position, but the front office and coach have both emphasized that this is truly an open competition. With the NHL trade deadline on February 28th rapidly approaching, what if the competition proves that neither of the two netminders are ready?

So. Let us presume that neither of the two AHL goaltenders prove themselves ready for full time backup duty. Columbus would have to enter the goaltender market. This team needs a reliable presence in the net behind Bobrovsky. The Metropolitan race is too tight to not have a presence you can trust behind Bob. Clearly the front office did not think McElhinney was that player. If they come to the conclusion that neither Forsberg nor Korpisalo are ready, there are other options out there for the Blue Jackets. Per CapFriendly, the Blue Jackets have $3,760,558 in cap space available for the rest of the season. Given that, there are some options the Blue Jackets could look at adding to shore up the backup goaltender position. Let’s take a look at some of them. Reminder: UFA contract status means the player will be an unrestricted free agent in the season listed; RFA means the player will be a restricted free agent in the season listed.

Anders Nilsson

Current team: Buffalo Sabres
Cap Hit for 2016-17: $1,000,000
Contract Status: RFA in 2017-18

Nilsson, currently 26 and in his 5th year in the NHL, has had a solid if unspectacular year while in Buffalo this season. In 16 games played, he has posted a record of 7-5-4 with a 2.58 GAA and a .924 SV%. For his career, Nilsson boasts a 2.96 GAA and .906 SV%, both of which have trended in the correct directions over the course of his career. He’s been getting better, all while playing on a bad Sabres team. He would provide experience at the position, and would allow the team to keep his rights at a bargain if he played well. Nilsson has 16 appearances already this season, demonstrating that he could step in for an extended period of time if Bobrovsky were to go down.

Ondrej Pavelec

Current team: Winnipeg Jets
Cap Hit for 2016-17: $3,900,000
Contract Status: UFA in 2017-18

Pavelec might be a bit of a reach, but why not swing for the fences? Chances are he could be had, given that Winnipeg is having a terrible season and the Jets have two young netminders to build around in Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson. Pavelec would probably cost at least a prospect and maybe a middle-round pick, but he could solidify the backup position for the rest of the season. He is 13-13-4 this year with a 2.78 GAA and a .904 SV%, both right in line with his career averages. I would be very surprised if the team went after Pavelec because of his contract the rest of the season – it seems like the dollar amount on his cap hit would keep the Jackets away, even if the contract expires at the end of the year.

Michal Neuvirth

Current team: Philadelphia Flyers
Cap Hit for 2016-17: $1,625,000
Contract Status: UFA in 2017-18

Neuvirth might be hard to acquire, given that he plays for a division rival, but he might be one of the better options available. He’s having a down year (6-3-0, 3.30 GAA, .877 SV%), but has put together a solid career. He has played in 213 games, registering a record of 90-74-21 with a 2.69 GAA and a .912 SV%. His contract is expiring after this season and, given his minimal appearances, he might not cost a whole lot in a trade. I would be surprised if Philadelphia traded him to Columbus given their status as a division rival and a playoff contender.

Keith Kinkaid

Current Team: New Jersey Devils
Cap Hit for 2016-17: $725,000
Contract Status: UFA in 2017-18

Kinkaid, of the New Jersey Devils, presents an intriguing option at the trade deadline. The Devils are just 5 points out of the second wild card position, but have 5 teams ahead of them that they must leap frog. New Jersey, barring a run, likely will not make the playoffs due to the completely ridiculous pace of the Metro this season. Does this mean the Devils will be selling pieces at the deadline? Possibly. Kinkaid has posted a 5-4-2 record this season wth a 2.59 GAA and a .921 SV% this year. If a second or third round pick could snag him, I would make that trade. Kinkaid has had a respectable career (20-18-7, 2.68 GAA, .912 SV%) and he could be serviceable for the rest of the season.

Thomas Greiss

Current Team: New York Islanders
Cap Hit for 2016-17: $1,500,000
Contract Status: UFA in 2017-18

Currently playing for the team at the bottom of the Metropolitan division and sporting solid statistics, Greiss appears to be a prime contender for a trade at the deadline. Griess sports a .925 SV% this season and a 2.41 GAA for a team that just fired its coach and has had an exceptionally disappointing season after making the playoffs last season. Greiss might be an expensive player to trade for, but he could solidify the position for the rest of the season. I do not believe that Jackets would consider trading for Greiss, however, as the price will likely be too high for a contract that expires at the end of the season.

Brian Elliott

Current Team: Calgary Flames
Cap Hit for 2016-17: $2,500,000
Contract Status: UFA in 2017-18

Brian Elliott is easily the most intriguing name on this list. The longtime goaltender in St. Louis, he was traded to Calgary to be the starting netminder but was beaten out by Chad Johnson. As a result, Elliott remains on the outs. He boasts a career 2.43 GAA and .913 SV%, though both of those numbers are down this season. Elliott, while expensive, could benefit from a change of scenery and give the Blue Jackets a legit option at the backup position, allowing Torts to rest Bobrovsky at whatever time they wanted. He would likely cost a pick and a prospect, but he would provide an intriguing option for the rest of the season.

Peter Budaj

Current Team: Los Angeles Kings
Cap Hit for 2016-17: $600,000
Contract Status: UFA in 2017-18

Budaj is currently the starting goaltender for the Los Angeles Kings after Jonathan Quick suffered a serious groin injury in the season opener. Budaj is 20-12-3 with a .917 SV% and a 2.09 GAA in relief this season. While his contract expires after this season, it is unlikely that the Kings trade him before the deadline with Quick still out until at least mid-February. The Kings would likely not feel comfortable enough in their goaltender situation to let Budaj go. So, put the Budaj deal on the backburner, regardless of how attractive trading for him may be.

Mike Smith

Current team: Arizona Coyotes
Cap Hit for 2016-17: $5,666,667
Contract Status: UFA in 2019-2020

I know, I know. “That guy who stopped 58 of 60 shots against us?” or “That guy who went bananas and tried to fight everyone a few weeks ago?” were probably your first thoughts. Hear me out. Smith has posted a 2.84 GAA and a .918 SV% this season, and has played consistently well for a team that is, frankly, terrible. Arizona could potentially be willing to part with their netminder, but he would likely come at a steep price as the Coyotes look to rebuild going forward. Ultimately, Smith is an extremely unlikely option because he has a no trade clause and because his salary would complicate the team unnecessarily going forward.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Ultimately, I do not feel that the Blue Jackets will end up trading for a backup netminder this year. The Blue Jackets do not have a second round pick in one of the next two years, as they’ll have to send one to Vancouver in exchange for John Tortorella, limiting their trade options. Any deals would likely have to include a high pick of a valuable prospect, and I just cannot see the team parting with a piece like that when this team is ahead of schedule.

If I had to guess, I would expect to see Joonas Korpisalo, on the strength of his resume last season and this season, win the backup positon behind Sergei Bobrovsky. That would give the team a solid backup, allow Korpisalo to receive coaching from Ian Clark while in Columbus, and give the Jackets a full study on what they have in Korpisalo ahead of next season.

So, what say you? Would like you to see Columbus trade for a backup netminder? If so, which one?

Let us know in the comments!