Deadline Discussion: Elvis Merzlikins

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With the trade deadline just over two weeks away and the team in last place, GM Jarmo Kekalainen has probably been very busy fielding calls about nearly every player on the roster. It’s up to him and his staff to decide who fits in here long-term, and who does not. So, with the defense and goaltending struggling, is it possible that the team could shock us all by trading away goaltender Elvis Merzlikins?

It’s been a brutal season for Merzlikins, and it really hasn’t been all his fault. We’ve talked all year about the injuries this team is weeding through, and no position has been more affected than the blue line. Through 53 games, the team does not have a single defenseman who has played in every game – and just three who have played in at least 50 (Vladislav Gavrikov, Erik Gudbranson with 52 each, and Andrew Peeke with 51).

In fact, after those three, the next closest player in games played this season is rookie Tim Berni, who has been in the lineup for 30 games. All of this has piled up on top of what was already the least experienced defense corps in the league, exposing this team’s true weakness early and often this season.

Jan 19, 2023; Columbus, Ohio, USA; Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) defends the net against the Anaheim Ducks in the second period at Nationwide Arena. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

What this means for the goaltenders here is that, they find themselves under siege for long stretches of time when the team fails to clear the puck. The overall inexperience on the back-end has led to countless shifts of scrambling in the D-zone, and scoring chances against that most teams in the league wouldn’t even consider giving up.

Goaltending is as much a mental game as it is skill or athletic based. By style, Elvis Merzlikins is an aggressive, athletic goaltender, who moves rapidly from side to side in his crease. This allows him to make the odd dazzling save; extremely effective at breaking up the one-timer or a bang-bang play. But on the flip side, this can expose him if players have time and space with the puck – if he over-pushes or commits too soon, the far side of the net can be left wide open. NHL shooters can pick those corners.

This has been the problem for Elvis so far this season. While we would all love for him to stop every puck, it simply isn’t going to happen – no matter who is in the crease. Often this season, the team gives up an early goal, and it snowballs from there. On several occasions, we’ve seen Elvis visibly frustrated after a goal against, which speaks volumes about his confidence and the play in front of him.

I believe this is part of the reason the other two goaltenders have been more successful in the crease this year. Both Daniil Tarasov and Joonas Korpisalo are more stationary goaltenders, who rely on positioning and a calmer demeanor to stop pucks. It’s an inexperience thing that’s helping contribute to Elvis’ struggles. They give up one, then two, frustration sets in, then three, four … you get the idea.

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