2022-23 Player Review: Elvis Merzlikins is at a crossroads
This season was a disaster. How will Elvis respond?
Let's just get right to it: Elvis Merzlikins was bad this year. Really bad. How bad? Well, there were 75 goalies in the NHL who played in at least 15 games. Among those, he was 74th in GAA, with 4.23 goals per game. (Last place was another Blue Jacket, Michael Hutchinson, with 4.29). Elvis was also 74th in save percentage (.876, ahead of only Vancouver's Spencer Martin at .871).
"But PD," you may ask, "he played behind such an awful defense! What do the fancy stats say, which take this into account?" Great question, imaginary reader. Per Money Puck, Elvis was dead last among those 75 goalies with -25.9 goals saved above expected (in all situations). On a per 60 minute basis, he was still last at -0.996. Basically, Elvis was allowing an extra goal per game. Only Martin had a lower save percentage above expected (-0.016, vs. Elvis's -0.015).
Even among other Columbus goalies, Elvis paled in comparison. Joonas Korpisalo was of course the standout, and the only one with a save percentage above .900 (not counting Jet Greaves with .939 in a single appearance). Korpi's GAA was 3.17, whereas Daniil Tarasov had 3.91 and everyone else was above 4. Elvis was putting up numbers like Michael Hutchinson and Jon Gillies were, and those guys were basically AHL journeymen. That's not who you want to compare your franchise goalie to.
Elvis's contract (more on that below) renders him effectively untradeable, so a priority for the team must be getting improved play from him. An improved defense could help. More assistance will have to come from a new goaltending coach. Manny Legace – the only position coach Elvis has had since arriving in North America – was informed at the end of the season that his contract would not be renewed. It's not hard to imagine that Elvis's struggles are the primary reason. What he may need the most is a change of scenery, but barring that perhaps new voices on the coaching staff can give him a fresh start.
Elvis is a passionate guy and you know he wants to be better. You know he loves living in Columbus. He is going to have to put in a lot of work this summer to be the goalie this team needs him to be, and who the fans want him to be. Where is the Elvis who put up .923 an a 2.35 GAA in 33 games as a rookie in 2019-20? Or even the follow-up of .916 and 2.77 in 2021?
Games Played: 30
Games Started: 27
SV%: .876 (779 saves on 889 shots faced)
Quality Start % (games with an above-average SV%): .296
Really Bad Starts (SV% below .850): 6
Elvis signed an extension a year early, in September 2021. He has completed one year of that five year contract, which carries a cap hit of $5,400,000 per season, and a 10 team no-trade list. In terms of actual salary, 2023-24 and 2024-25 are the highest real salary of the contract, at $6,000,000 each year. The savings don't come until the $4,225,000 of the fifth and final year in 2026-27.
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Not a lot to choose from here, unfortunately. He had just one complete game where he allowed 1 goal, and that was a 1-0 loss in Washington where the Jackets outshot the Caps 38-19.
Instead, I'll go with a 5-3 Jackets win in Buffalo on February 28 (the Eric Robinson Hat Trick game). Elvis faced 41 shots and saved 38 of them. He also earned an assist, his only of the season but fourth of his career.
I could pick a game, but there are five where Elvis allowed 6 goals, or one where he allowed 7. Even worse is two of those games weren't complete: he allowed 6 against Buffalo in December on national TV after replacing Korpisalo in the first period, and then got replaced by Korpi again to start the third. The other was an 8-2 loss in Montreal, and he got injured late in the second period.
The real low point is all of those injuries. He was sick to start the season so he missed the first couple of games. He missed time with injuries in late December and again at the end of the season. The most important ability is availability and Elvis hasn't shown he can be a workhorse.
Is that too harsh? I have a feeling Elvis wouldn't argue with it. I'm not ruling out him bouncing back to form. I will be thrilled if he does. But I can't see this season as anything but a failure.
What do you think?