As camp kicks off, it is comforting to know that the Columbus Blue Jackets have at least one position that is all but settled. The Jackets are in a great position when it comes to goaltending and arguably have two goaltenders capable of being a #1. The position is the only one that can be considered one of strength on the club.
Big changes were expected in the crease this summer with Jarmo Kekalainen likely to move one of his NHL goaltenders. However, due to the tragic death of budding goalie prospect and future backup, Matiss Kivlenieks, the Jackets opted to stick with their known quantities in Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo, and not make any trades (for the time being).
The Blue Jackets will be bringing an unprecedented number of players (67) to camp this year, including seven goaltenders. With that being said, there shouldn’t be much of a positional battle. While nobody will say it, it’s clear that Jackets will enter the season with a clear cut #1 goaltender….
It is finally clear the team has made their decision on their starting goaltender of the future. On Tuesday evening, the Jackets signed Elvis to a five-year contract extension with a 5.4M AAV. Unless you’re the Florida Panthers, you don’t normally pay a backup goalie north of $5M a year, so its safe to assume Elvis is the new #1. Now I can’t take full credit for this, but I’d like to think that management read my piece from earlier this year advocating for this — so you’re welcome. Congratulations to the entire Merzlikins family!
I won’t go into it again, but it just made too much sense to commit to Merzlikins long-term. With a new contract in his back pocket, he enters this coming season with even bigger expectations from management, fans and most of all himself.
With such a young team — defense in particular — the Blue Jackets will need a Vezina-caliber goalie for the team to remain competitive in the stacked Metropolitan division. In limited appearances over the last two years, Merzlikins has impressed with a .920 save percentage and a 2.54 GAA including 7 shutouts over 61 games.
Korpisalo comes into this season expected to be a good soldier. He will have plenty of motivation in a contract year and a chip on his shoulder after a disappointing season and an offseason where he probably expected to be traded. It’s pretty clear that he will be back to his original role of backup or at least 1B, but he will get his share of the net. At the same time, it’s hard to imagine there isn’t any awkwardness in the goalie room considering the team has made their choice clear.
It has been an up and down last few seasons that has resulted in an All-Star Game selection (for which he was injured) as well as a record-setting performance in the playoff bubble. Unfortunately, it was only to be followed up by a season with a sub-.900 save percentage and a 3.30 GAA.
It’s hard to not feel bad for Korpi as he has been a consummate professional in his years with the team — many of those sitting behind former starter Sergei Bobrovsky — but he will undoubtedly get another shot somewhere else. It may end up being sooner rather than later. With the signing of Merzlikins, the clock is ticking on Korpisalo’s time in Columbus. Not to go all “conspiracy theorist,” but it is a bit suspicious that Korpisalo was absent from day 1 of training camp with a lower-body injury.
This is the tough part of the deal for Columbus, as it almost certainly means Korpisalo is on his way out of town, either in a trade during this season or as a free agent next summer. - Aaron Portzline, The Athletic
If the inevitable should happen in the near future, I’d just like to say thanks for the memories, Korpi.
While he isn’t ready for full-time backup duties just yet, it is quite possible the young Russian sees his first NHL action this year. The Blue Jackets have the luxury of not needing to rush the player whatsoever and can allow him to adjust to the North American game and further mature and grow into his huge frame. The time will come for Tarasov to shine at the highest level, but he will get ample opportunities to pay his dues in Cleveland. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him make his case to be the full-time backup to Elvis as early as next season. It’s nice to know that going forward, the goaltending position will continue to be a position of strength.
Also in Camp
Cam Johnson - Resident bench warmer who spent most of last year on the Taxi Squad. He was given a contract this summer when the Jackets had to have a goalie under contract to be exposed to Seattle in the expansion draft. He hasn’t seen AHL action since 2018-19, so he will get a chance to show he isn’t just a warm body in Cleveland.
Jet Greaves - Aside from having a great name, I wouldn’t expect much from Greaves. He was signed to an AHL contract after going undrafted after an underwhelming junior career. In his final season with the Barrie Colts, he posted a .888 SV% and a 3.99 GAA.
Jean-Francois Berube - Berube recently signed a PTO to attend camp in Columbus. While he does have some NHL experience, he has spent the last several years bouncing around the AHL, including the Cleveland Monsters back in 2018-19. He could be some emergency depth at the position if Korpisalo is traded and Tarasov is not ready make the leap to the NHL.
Emerik Despatie - The undrafted Despatie finds himself in an NHL training camp thanks to the prospects team’s performance in Traverse City. Kekalainen added all members of the undefeated squad to the training camp roster. Enjoy your time and try to learn as much as possible.
Evan Moyse - The former Ohio State Buckeye saw some action in the ECHL last season and is another body to absorb some pucks in training camp. Congratulations to the Olmstead Falls native.