Injuries were one of the main storylines for the 2022-2023 Blue Jackets. Players at every position were bitten by the injury bug, which led to some long nights in Columbus, OH. The goalie room was similarly plagued by injuries, as the Blue Jackets were forced to play 6 different goalies during the regular season. By contrast, most teams have 2 or 3 goalies see playing time. CBJ management has acknowledged that the goaltending depth needs to be addressed for the 2023-2024 season.
The Blue Jackets are entering the new season with Elvis Merzlikins as their starting goaltender and Daniil Tarasov as the backup goaltender. Currently, only 2 other goalies are under contract. Jet Greaves is expected to be a regular in the AHL for the Cleveland Monsters and Nolan Lalonde is expected to be the starting goalie for Erie in the OHL. So that begs the question: who will be the #3 goalie behind Tarasov? Greaves is a candidate, but then that leaves Cleveland shorthanded. Jarmo Kekalainan has stated that he wants a veteran goalie to be the #3; someone who could play in Cleveland and be called up to Columbus if needed. The bulk of the summer trade and free agency frenzy has mostly cooled off and the CBJ still does not have a #3 goalie. Enter Aaron Dell.
On Wednesday, the Jackets signed Dell to a Professional Try-Out (PTO) contract. That means he does not have an official contract in-hand to play for the organization this season. He will come to training camp and if he plays well and earns a spot within the organization, then he will have a contract to play within the organization. The 34 year-old, undrafted netminder will have to stand out in training camp and in the preseason to earn that contract.
Dell has spent a majority of his NHL career within the San Jose Sharks organization. He has 5 seasons within the Sharks organization, 1 within the New Jersey Devils organization, and 1 within the Buffalo Sabres organization. In those 7 seasons, he has played in 130 NHL games and 133 AHL games. He has a record of 50 wins, 50 losses, and 13 overtime losses in the NHL. His career statistics include a 0.905 save percentage and 2.92 goals against average.
Is Dell the answer to the CBJ goaltending depth issue? Maybe. He has proven to be a goalie that is okay splitting time between the NHL and AHL. He statistics are not amazing but are serviceable. My hunch is that the intention, should he earn a contract, is to have Dell be full-time in Cleveland. I suspect the CBJ are still scouring the market for a proven goalie. There will be more player movement in training camp around the entire NHL. Teams will need to get themselves cap compliant and may need to shed some contracts to do so. That’s where the CBJ come in. I think the CBJ have had conversations with multiple teams about goalies. I’m not saying that the CBJ will go out and acquire a Vezina winner. But I think the CBJ will add another goalie to compete with Dell in training camp for that #3 spot. Competition is a good thing and will only help the CBJ this season.
The Blue Jackets were forced to play 6 goalie’s last season. While we hope that all the players are healthy in 2023-2024, we must be prepared for more injuries to come. It’s professional sports: injuries do occur. So, adding depth to the goaltending is a must for the CBJ. Adding Aaron Dell on a PTO during training camp is a low risk move for the CBJ. If he plays well, he could be the #3 goalie. If he plays poorly, he will be released from his PTO. In any event, the addition of Dell is a small step in the right direction. Does the possible addition of Dell make CBJ fans feel more confident about the state of the goaltending? Probably not. But it still puts the CBJ is a better position than they were in earlier this summer.