It could be argued that no Blue Jacket had a more difficult season than Elvis Merzlikins this year. After battling through last season and remaining mentally tough, Elvis seemed to let the off-ice noise get to him this year, which resulted in his worst on-ice season since coming to North America four years ago.
The Jackets took a gamble on Elvis Merzlikins just before the start of the 2021-22 season, extending him for five years with a $5.4m annual cap hit. This signified the obvious: Elvis was going to be the starting goaltender for the next era of Jacket hockey. This essentially spelled the eventual end of their relationship with Joonas Korpisalo, giving them a different direction in goal.
Now that he was paid like a #1 goaltender, we expected to see him take the reins and play like one. Last year, I thought he did a nice job in a rocky situation, playing in 59 games and posting a respectable .907 save percentage. Even though his 3.22 GAA seemed high, we could pin some of that on the very young and inexperienced defense corps in front of him.
Unfortunately, this year, it all came crashing down. Whether it was the early season illness that caused him to not start on opening night, the various injuries and illnesses he faced throughout the season, or the mental challenges of entering another season after the loss of dear friend Matiss Kivlenieks, Elvis simply was not himself this year.
We saw the player we know and love on very few occasions, but even on the nights he did show up and play like the Elvis of old, the team often hung him out to dry and the mental toughness just wasn’t there. He would start just 27 games for the Jackets this season, ending the year with only 7 wins. He was pulled far too often this year, through faults of his own or the team in front of him.
The Jackets eventually used six different goaltenders this season (Merzlikins, Korpisalo, Daniil Tarasov, Jet Greaves, Michael Hutchinson, and Jon Gillies) – and Elvis posted a worse save percentage (.876) than all of them; except for Gillies (.864), who played in only three games. It was not Elvis’ year this year.
Final season stats: 30 games played (27 starts), 7-18-2, .876 save percentage, 4.23GAA, 0 shutouts. Overall grade: F
I hate giving an F grade to anybody, but regardless where you put the bulk of the blame, Elvis has to take some of it. He’s paid to be the starting goaltender for this team, and getting just under a third of the team’s starts in a season is not good enough. If he had suffered a severe injury or had a reason to not play more, it would be different. But flat out, he just has to be better. If he isn’t, then everything else we’re talking about – signing Johnny Gaudreau, whoever they pick in the top-four of this draft, getting healthy, etc – is all for naught. They aren’t trading him, and they aren’t buying him out. They made a commitment, and he has to live up to it for this team to have success.