While the King of Rock and Roll has been gone for almost 50 years, Columbus Blue Jackets’ Elvis — Elvis Merzlikins — is set to be in the building for the next six seasons. The two Elvis’ share several similar qualities. Generosity, compassion, and both are known for robbing others of success. Paramount among their similarities, though, is a charisma and star quality not found in many.
Blue Jackets brass announced a contract extension for the Latvian wonder on Tuesday. It kicks in after this season for five more, until 2026-27, and carries a cap hit of $5.4 million. The 27-year-old Merzlikins brings a rockstar-esque demeanor to the Columbus crease, and is a prime candidate to be a leading face for a franchise searching for a new identity.
Merzlikins and Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen spoke to the media following the announcement of the contract extension; the quotes are from that availability.
Merzlikins’ Road to Now
The once long-awaited Merzlikins has been Blue Jackets’ property since being drafted in the third round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. Merzlikins says that staying with the team that drafted him was a priority.
“Columbus is the team that chose me in 2014. In my career, I’ve played in just two [professional] teams. When I played in Lugano, that was my home, that is my home in my heart. And now Columbus is [getting to be] my home. I’m really happy that I’m still here with the team that chose me in the draft and the team who have believed in me and my game.”Merzlikins on extending his contract in Columbus, from media availability, September 22, 2021
After being drafted, he spent the next five seasons developing in Switzerland’s top league as a starter for a successful team in Lugano. Merzlikins gained some playoff experience during that time, leading the team with Blue Jackets prospect Gregory Hofmann to two championship finals in 2015-16 and 2017-18.
Following that, he came to Ohio to start in 2019-20 and hasn’t looked back since. Highlights from Merzlikins’ time in Columbus have been a shutout streak lasting almost three games (174:39); leading the team in save percentage, goals against average, and shutouts in each of his first two seasons, and being known as a good guy to be around in the locker room:
“Goaltending is so much between the ears too. [It’s] about confidence and how much you let a bad game bother you and how you bounce back and in the pressure situations of any individual game. If you let in a bad goal, how do you respond? I think with added maturity and experience, he’s learned a lot and learned to handle himself in those situations, and that’s what it’s all about. [He] has grown into becoming a real good goaltender in this league.”Kekalainen on Merzlikins maturity, from media availability September 22, 2021
“It’s awesome. I like the city. I like where I am. I like the people who are here,” Merzlikins says about re-signing.
Elvis says that there were some talks in August on extending, but most of the work was done Monday night. He added that his wife was the deciding factor in their decision to re-sign in Ohio. He said she enjoys Columbus more than her hometown in Switzerland, and the two were happy to call Columbus home.
Kekalainen was high on Merzlikins and quick to praise what he brings to the team, saying, “I think he’s got a lot of those qualities that everybody’s looking for in a number one goalie. He’s athletic. He’s quick. He’s explosive. He’s competitive.”
He also implied that the trauma the organization has suffered from players leaving to unrestricted free agency in recent years may have led them to a more proactive approach with their goaltenders this season.
“To take a risk where both of them were in their last year before hitting unrestricted free agency was a risk that we were not willing to take, and we got a long-term deal with Elvis done because of that,” says Kekalainen.
As for the deal itself, it’s a five-year, $27-million extension for the 27-year-old. His $5.4 million cap hit is the 12th highest of goalies under contract when his extension kicks in in 2022-23. Per Aaron Portzline of The Athletic, the breakdown salary sees a slightly front-loaded contract through the first three seasons and tailing off in the last two years.
What Does This Mean for the Blue Jackets’ Future in Goal?
The void of a true starting goaltender in Columbus left by two-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky has been filled by the tandem of Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo.
Kekalainen was reluctant to say whether or not this meant that Korpisalo — who has had his fair share of heroics — was on the outs in Ohio. When asked about the future of Korpisalo in Columbus, Kekalainen was clear that the contract extension for Merzlikins doesn’t mean that he will be the de facto starter and that the play of the two netminders will determine who starts more, not the dollars on their contracts.
“Everybody is also looking for a goaltending tandem where you can throw in either one on a given night and they’ll give you a good chance to win,” says Kekalainen. “That’s why it’s so important that we still have Korpisalo here. We’ll see how they play and who grabs more ice time. A lot of things can happen in the future.”
Writer covering Columbus Blue Jackets.
Also a radio personality and reporter currently based on Vancouver Island.