Which bad Elvis joke are you going to dust off for this one? The smart money is on “Elvis stays in the building,” as the Blue Jackets signed Merzlikins to a five-year extension on Tuesday.
That Merzlikins extension costs the Blue Jackets $5.4M per season (five years, $27M overall) starting in 2022-23. Merzlikins, 27, carries a $4M cap hit during the 2021-22 season.
“Goaltending is a position of strength for our team and Elvis Merzlikins has been an important part of that over the past two seasons so we are very excited to have agreed to terms on a contract extension that will keep him in Columbus for at least the next six years,” GM Jarmo Kekalainen said via the team’s release. “He is big, athletic and has a tremendous passion for the game and we believe he will be an integral part of our success in the coming years.”
Blue Jackets gamble on Merzlikins with five-year extension
At first blush, it seems like quite the gamble by Kekalainen.
Despite already being 27, Merzlikins doesn’t have a ton of NHL experience. So far, he only has 61 regular season and two playoff games under his belt.
The Blue Jackets could’ve merely decided to wait and see how the 2021-22 season played out in net. Joonas Korpisalo (27, $2.8M cap hit) is entering a contract year, so they could’ve allowed the two netminders to battle it out with huge motivation.
Of course, that scenario introduces more uncertainty to a team that keeps losing key players like Seth Jones, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and previously, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.
Earlier during the offseason, the Blue Jackets handed Zach Werenski an eyebrow-raising six-year, $57.5M extension. With extensions to Werenski, Merzlikins, and Boone Jenner, along with term for players like Jakub Voracek and Oliver Bjorkstrand, the Blue Jackets can project more stability.
Yet, in some cases, there’s an air of desperation.
[2021 NHL Free Agent Tracker]
Merzlikins ranks as an especially intriguing bet, though.
Again, his NHL experience is limited. That said, credit Merzlikins for nailing just about every opportunity so far.
- As a rookie in 2019-20, Merzlikins went 13-9-8 with a strong .923 save percentage in 33 games. He generated 12.1 Goals Saved Against Average, by Hockey Reference’s version of the stat.
- That offseason, Merzlikins only appeared in two playoff games. Still, he notched a .946 save percentage in those appearances. Strong work all around that season.
- In 2020-21, Merzlikins went 8-12-5, and his save percentage slipped to .916. That’s perfectly respectable when you consider how disastrous the Blue Jackets were last season. His GSAA was 7.0, indicating the Merzlikins did his job.
- Now, you can only extrapolate so much from his work over six seasons in the Swiss league. Still, his numbers mostly look good there, too.
So, at first, it does still seem like a significant risk. That said, if Merzlikins can deliver above-average goaltending (or even elite work) during much of that contract, it could also be another clever-as-a-fox moment from Kekalainen.
If the Blue Jackets are weak again in 2021-22, would this set the stage for Joonas Korpisalo being an intriguing trade target, too? Might their defense crater after a coaching change?
There are a lot of interesting factors that could play into how we perceive the Blue Jackets signing Merzlikins to that extension. Whether it works out or not, it’s an important part of the team’s future.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.