This season saw the Columbus Blue Jackets’ goalie depth tested to its extremes. In February, with both Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo temporarily unavailable, and Daniil Tarasov recovering from season-ending surgery, the Jackets had to turn to Jean-Francois Berube as their interim starter.
Berube, a 30 year old journeyman, had signed a one-year, two-way contract with the team late in the pre-season after coming to camp on a tryout contract. He was familiar to the organization, having played for the Cleveland Monsters in 2018-19. He had bounced around the AHL since then, and his last NHL appearance was with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2018.
His numbers with the Monsters were not impressive, but his return to the NHL saw him win his first three games, allowing three goals each time and averaging 37 saves. The first game was against the Sabres, so no big whoop, but the next two were against great teams with great offenses in Toronto and Florida, the latter on the road. Berube had no help from his defense, but stood on his head to keep the team in the game. His overall stats weren’t great, but he also faced the toughest workload of the four Columbus goalies (40.36 SA/60 at 5v5, and 3.38 xGA/60)
2021-22 Season Stats
Games played: 19
Save Percentage: .879
Games played: 6
Save Percentage: .900
Berube played under a two-way contract which paid him $700,000 at the NHL level and $200,000 in the AHL. He is an unrestricted free agent this summer. I figured Berube was worth re-signing for a similar amount to be the full-time backup behind Elvis next season; maybe on a one-way deal this time. Instead, with the team re-signing Korpisalo last week, there may not be room for Berube. Elvis and Korpi will continue their roles in Columbus, with Tarasov and Jet Greaves in Cleveland.
So the question is, was it the right decision to keep Korpisalo rather than Berube? Or should the team have pursued another back-up option? In addition to Berube putting up better performances in limited action than Korpisalo did, he would come cheaper AND can sit on the bench while Elvis gets the bulk of starts. We’ve seen that Korpisalo is far less effective when he sits for an extended period.
In Berube’s second win, not only did he have 39 saves in an OT victory, but he also recorded an assist on a game-tying goal early in the third period.
After Korpisalo’s season ended, Brad Larsen indicated that Elvis would start every remaining game. It turns out this wasn’t actually the plan, but he wanted Elvis to be in that mindset. Elvis was supposed to end his season with a victory over the Lightning in the home finale, with Berube taking the start the next day in Pittsburgh. Alas, Berube only lasted 6:26 before getting pulled after allowing three goals on eight shots, forcing Elvis to come in and finish the game.
I know it’s hard to assign a grade on such a limited sample, but I’ll give him a C+. He had a couple of stinkers, but also three stand-out performances. I think that’s exactly what you’d take from the backup goalie.
How would you grade J.F. Berube’s 2021-22 season?
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