Last weekend, I was pulling away from my parking spot at the grocery store, when I noticed an elderly man in the adjacent car with his window down, looking at me intently. I lowered my window. “Is that Elvis on your license plate?” Why, yes! MERZLI sure is a conversation starter. We proceeded to discuss our mutual admiration for the goalie amid the clanking of shopping carts, and I left reaffirmed why Elvis Merzlikins is fast becoming a new fan favorite.
Knowing Sergei Bobrovsky had punched his (unconfirmed) ticket to ride during the 2018-2019 season, more information about Elvis emerged while he played in Switzerland for HC Lugano. He was touted as someone with burgeoning skill, appreciation for family and country, but also rare spunk. Confident, maybe cocky, but animated and eager. He signed with the CBJ in 2014 and made his debut with the Blue Jackets in 2019. Although his early games were disastrous, he rose to the challenge and went on a streak of greatness after Joonas Korpisalo injured his knee in December, 2019.
He’s good on the ice, but even better in interviews. He continues to speak with content and honesty. Like many fans, I recognize the necessary media survival training that sadly beats individuality out of these young men, at least on camera. Yet two years in, his personality appears intact.
This season, he partnered with Joonas in a hybrid model, aka full tandem split, until déjà vu Joonas became injured on April 25. Despite not producing a flashy streak of greatness like the previous season, his overall season numbers were solid. He finished the year with a 8-12-5 record. Elvis even admitted that this season wasn’t his best, unfortunately placing him in crowded company.
Stats for 2020-21
GP 28, W 8, L 12, OTL 5, SA 825, GA 69, GAA 2.77, SV 0.916%, SO 2
His SV% places him 5th in the NHL for all goalies that played at least 25 games. Elvis’ dFSV%, which represents what the goalie was expected to save based on the quality of the shot versus what he actually saved, is -.22. This translates into 7.92 goals against prevented versus an average goaltender. That’s 19th in the league. Although he had fewer shutouts this season (5 shutouts last season), he kept us in many games with an abysmal offense.
January 31, 2021 versus the Chicago Blackhawks. As he’s prone to do, Elvis played the puck behind the net but blundered, leading to an opposition goal. Six minutes later, it happened again. While not always so catastrophic, Elvis can get sloppy and lack situational awareness. He also became injured after making an acrobatic save versus the Nashville Predators in February, subsequently missing the next three games.
He likes to win, and he wears his disappointment and frustration on his sleeve. It’s sincere and heartfelt. We need players that deeply feel a loss and can transform that feeling into motivation. Regarding his personal play, Elvis’ consistency was a welcome change from the wide fluctuations of last season. Yes, there was an adjustment period last season, playing in North America for the first time, and this season he clearly appeared more comfortable. Perhaps he felt less pressure as the Blue Jackets’ season tanked. Or he competitively recognized that the starter position was within reach. Regardless, all professional athletes’ performances are subject to psychological influences, and this is particularly true with hockey goaltenders. The challenge moving forward for Elvis is sustaining this consistency while remaining healthy.
Prior to Seth Jones’ declaration of free agency pursuit last week, the hottest topics for the Blue Jackets were John Davidson’s hiring from firing, John Tortorella’s replacement (no one can really replace Torts), and which goalie are we keeping. Many articles have been written debating this dilemma. Both goalies want the starter job. Matiss Kivlenieks appears to have taken the back-up role. Both Elvis and Joonas are in their last years of contractual agreement. They both will enter free agency next summer. Elvis is exempt from the expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken on July 21, 2021. Joonas has been at this for a while with the Blue Jackets, and perhaps he’s reached his ceiling. Elvis may be just getting started, and we’ve only scratched the surface. Elvis hasn’t had the confidence and trust that comes with the number one starter position, and his history shows that he can thrive in this role.
Fans inevitably enjoy personalities, and while that shouldn’t carry much weight, it carries some weight. This is entertainment, after all, but also personalities can and do drive success. With Nick Foligno and Seth Jones (soon to be) gone, we need a true franchise player that can excite the fanbase, generate a wider fanbase, but also exude confidence to the other players on the team. He’s a marketing department’s dream; this guy’s presence should be plastered all over the place. The former Washington Capitals netminder Braden Holtby once said that hockey goalies are both blamed and praised far more than they deserve, underscoring the undeniable importance of the position. If a hockey goalie is the most important player on the team, it doesn’t hurt to have one with moxie. No more unrequited hugs; CBJ should embrace Elvis as their #1.
How would you grade Elvis Merzlikins’s 2021 season?
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