Elvis Merzlikins signed a two-year contract with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. Financial terms were not disclosed.The 26-year-old goalie could have become a restricted free agent after this season.
“I’m really excited and happy to be here because I like everything here,” Merzlikins said. “I like the city. I really love my teammates, and I like the organization and especially the fans. When I came here at the start of the season, I felt like I was already home.”
Despite losing his first eight NHL decisions from Oct. 5-Dec. 29 (0-4-4), Merzlikins was 13-9-8 with a 2.35 goals-against average, a .923 save percentage and five shutouts when the NHL paused the season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus. Among NHL goalies to play at least 30 games this season, he is tied for second in shutouts, third in GAA, and tied for third in save percentage.
“You have to learn how to handle that pressure. This year was an awesome year to learn,” Merzlikins said. “… I believe now I will understand what to do and how to handle it.”
His signing comes six days after goalie Joonas Korpisalo signed a two-year contract with the Blue Jackets. Korpisalo, who turns 26 on April 28, was 19-12-5 with a 2.60 GAA, a .911 save percentage and two shutouts, and was selected for the NHL All-Star Game for the first time in his career.
“We had a lot of confidence in them last summer when we believed in them, had the faith in them to fill in the shoes of [Sergei] Bobrovsky, and we went with a duo of unproven goaltenders,” Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “We have two really good goaltenders under contract the next two years. The tandem worked well this year. They were a big part of our success and will be in the future as well.”
Video: CBJ@VGK: Merzlikins records first NHL shutout
Although Korpisalo was the No. 1 goalie entering the season, Merzlikins got the chance to take over after Korpisalo injured his knee Dec. 29, causing him to miss eight weeks.
In that time, Merzlikins started 21 of 24 games, going 12-5-4, including a stretch from Jan. 11-Feb. 7 when he was 8-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA, a .967 save percentage and five shutouts, becoming the first rookie with that many shutouts in an eight-game span since Frank Brimsek had six in seven games for the Boston Bruins in 1938-39.
“We’re fortunate in that way, that both of these guys had really good stretches in this league, proving that they might be what you’d called starters,” Kekalainen said. “It’s something that could be a huge strength of our team.”
Korpisalo also could have become a restricted free agent after this season.
Each goalie said he enjoys working with the other.
“We are good friends,” said Merzlikins, who the Blue Jackets selected in the third round (No. 76) of the 2014 NHL Draft. “Right now, it’s awesome. We’re trying to help each other, even on the goalie stuff. We have a really great relationship, especially with (goaltending coach) Manny [Legace]. We are a little goalie family there.”
NHL.com independent correspondent Craig Merz contributed to this report