Despite losing Matt Duchene (Nashville), Ryan Dzingel (Carolina), Artemi Panarin (New York Rangers), and Sergei Bobrovsky (Florida) last offseason in free agency, the Columbus Blue Jackets sit in the second wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference with a 33-22-15 record in seventy games played. The fact that they are in the position that they are at this point in time despite losing the marquee free agents we mentioned is incredible and is a testament to everyone in the organization.
A large part of the Blue Jackets success is the unbelievable play by rookie goaltender Elvis Merzlikins. Merzlikins was drafted in the 3rd round of 2014 NHL draft and immediately impressed as a starting goaltender in the league at 25-years of age. Merzlikins became the sixth goalie since 1920-30 to record five shutouts over an eight-game span and is one of just two rookies to accomplish this feat. Merzlikins had a 13-9-8 record with a .923 save percentage in thirty-three games played, chipping in the five shutouts we discussed as well. His solid play has even put him in the Calder conversation, maybe even the Vezina, and he looks like he could be the goalie of the future in Columbus. He is set to become a restricted free agent after the 2019-2020 season concludes.
Another option could be the other goaltender in Columbus’ tandem, Joonas Korpisalo, who is also set to become a restricted free agent when the 2019-2020 season concludes. Like Merzlikins, Korpisalo is also 25-years old and was a 3rd round pick in the 2012 NHL draft. In his thirty-seven starts this season, Korpisalo had a 19-12-5 record with a .911 save percentage and two shutouts.
If Columbus wanted to go a more expensive and more proven route, this year’s goaltending options in free agency are very compelling, as the likes of Braden Holtby, and Corey Crawford, Jacob Markstrom, Jimmy Howard, Thomas Greiss, and Robin Lehner are all unrestricted free agents. In fact, with the emergence of Tristan Jarry in Pittsburgh, restricted free agent Matt Murray could be available via trade. There is also a large number of backup goalies available in this year’s free agency class such as Craig Anderson, Jaroslav Halak, Cam Talbot, Anton Khudobin, and Mike Smith.
The Blue Jackets have around $20 million in cap space to sign 2016 3rd overall pick Pierre-Luc Dubois and find their new goaltending tandem. If it were us, we would look into keeping both of Korpisalo and Merzlikins, as they appear to be a solid young tandem in this league and could emerge as one of the league’s best if they continue to develop. More to come.