The Ottawa Senators will make their first visit of the season tonight, which will mark the return to Columbus for goaltender Joonas Korpisalo. Originally drafted in the third round (#62 overall) at the 2012 NHL Draft, “Korpi” played 210 games in the Union Blue.
The trade of Korpisalo seemed to split the CBJ fanbase. The departure of Sergei Bobrovksy in the summer of 2019 marked a transitional period in Blue Jacket history. Many assumed that Korpisalo, the team’s long-serving backup, would become the next great starter for this franchise. He served as Bob’s #2 for four seasons, with mixed results. But he only averaged 22.5 games played (21 starts) over the course of those four seasons.
On top of his lack of experience, the team and fanbase were abuzz about an exciting rookie coming over from Europe: Elvis Merzlikins. Still, early on, it seemed like Joonas would take the reins for the Jackets. He played on opening night, and after Elvis struggled early on that season, he was getting the lion’s share of the starts. But, a mid-season injury pushed the workload onto the shoulders of Merzlikins, who went on a legendary run that helped this team crawl back into the playoff race until the league-wide pause for the COVID pandemic.
That summer’s playoff bubble gave Korpisalo his defining moments in a CBJ uniform. He started 9 games for the team, posting a 3-6-0 record; but with sparkling numbers (.941 save percentage, 1.90GAA, 2 shutouts). This was capped off by an NHL-record 85 save effort in a losing cause against the Tampa Bay Lightning, in game 1 of their first round series. At that time, it seemed like Korpi was finally breaking through as an elite NHL goaltender.
Unfortunately for the Jackets, that breakthrough was only a mirage. A white-hot streak, really. Korpisalo came back the next season and posted a save percentage of .894 – then followed it up with a .877 in the 2021-22 season; losing the starting job full-time to Merzlikins, who was offered a hefty 5-year contract extension that fall.
That spelled the obvious, eventual end of Korpisalo’s time in Columbus. He would have hip surgery in the spring of ’22, leaving his career in jeopardy. But kudos to Jarmo Kekalainen and the Jackets – they gave him a one-year contract with a very low AAV, and helped him work his way back into the league. Once he recovered from his hip surgery, he helped stabilize this team last year (something he should be sainted for); and earned an opportunity to make a run with the LA Kings after being traded at the deadline.
Joonas was then able to springboard a strong finish behind a good team, into a 5-year, $20m contract with the Ottawa Senators. Honestly, I couldn’t be happier for him. It’s well-earned, and he gets the chance to be the #1 guy behind an upstart young team. Our fanbase may be split on which goaltender the Jackets should have kept; but in the end, we can hardly be upset at the way things ended with fan favorite Korpisalo. The Jackets did right by him.