What to Make of the Goaltending Situation for the Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets need to make a move with one of their goaltenders. Testing Daniil Tarasov's durability and ability to hold up mentally, could be the biggest hurdle for the team.
Toronto Maple Leafs v Columbus Blue Jackets
Toronto Maple Leafs v Columbus Blue Jackets / Kirk Irwin/GettyImages

When Pascal Vincent announced that Daniil Tarasov would be his likely starting goaltender this evening - for the third game in a row - a lot of questions started popping up all over social media. I have to say, something is definitely fishy here.

For the second consecutive game, incumbent starter Elvis Merzlikins will be a healthy scratch. In fact, it's been almost two weeks since we last saw #90 between the pipes for the Blue Jackets - December 29th against Toronto. He left that game with an illness, and has not played since.

A lot of the questions I'm seeing involve whether or not the team is seeking to trade their #1 goaltender. This is a good question, and I do think it's very possible that they could move on from Elvis at some point. Elliotte Friedman has even hinted at that on the 32 Thoughts podcast a few times. I don't think he says things by accident.

My gut, however, tells me that this isn't the kind of move they're looking to make any time soon - or even at the upcoming trade deadline. Elvis makes $5.4 million against the salary cap. With almost every contending team pushed right up against the upper limit of that cap, the Jackets would have to take dollars back the other way to make a move work.

Is that possible? Yeah, sure, I guess. But, take into account the cost of dumping salary in today's NHL. If the Jackets are going to be burdened with unwanted contracts coming the other way, they're going to want compensation to do it. Contending teams won't trade you good players during the season, not even to upgrade in goal.

So you have to ask yourself: is there a team out there that is willing to not only give up good assets to acquire Elvis Merzlikins ... but also trade additional assets to move money back the other way? Anything is possible, but my gut instinct says that any move involving #90 will wait until the off-season, when teams have the flexibility of going over the cap to move pieces around.

As for why Elvis isn't at least on the bench serving as backup, I can only guess. Maybe they're protecting him in case Tarasov does get injured, so he doesn't have to go in cold? Maybe he's still sick? Or, maybe they have a trade worked out, but are waiting for other chips to fall.

In the meantime, it really feels like we're getting a heavy dose of Daniil Tarasov as a test to see whether or not he can handle the rigors of being a starting goaltender in the NHL.

Keep in mind that Daniil hasn't played in more than 30 games - in any league or combination of leagues - in a single season, since 2019-20. In fact, as far as I can tell, he's only done it a couple of times in his entire career.

If Daniil can hold up and prove to the team that he can in fact be a starting goaltender in the NHL, then sure, it's possible that they could move on from Elvis at some point. If not, it may be time for them to move on from Tarasov himself. Either way, the quickest way to reach an outcome, does indeed seem to be letting the unprove Tarasov run with things while the season already a lost cause.

Unfortunately, I don't think we'll see an answer to the goaltending question any time soon.