There might not be hockey on the ice at this point. But the Columbus Blue Jackets spent Friday and Monday signing players for next season and beyond.
On Friday, the Blue Jackets gave All-Star goaltender Joonas Korpisalo a two-year extension. Then on Monday, they signed former Sabre and Avalanche forward Mikhail Grigorenko to a one-year deal that won’t take effect until the start of next season whenever that is. (Update: The NHL ruled that the contract violated the CBA. Therefore it could not be registered. The team did release a statement indicating they intend to re-submit the contract on July 1.)
For Korpisalo, this is a well deserved raise. He came into the season as the team’s number-one goalie for the first time in his career, After an up and down start, Korpisalo won 10 of 13 starts from the end of November until the end of December when he suffered a knee injury. Despite showing some signs of adjusting to the larger role, he found his confidence and became a bedrock in net especially when newcomer Elvis Merzlikins struggled early.
Here’s GM Jarmo Kekalainen on Korpisalo: “Joonas had the opportunity to play a lot of games for us early in the season before he was injured and responded by playing at an All-Star level,” said Kekalainen. “He is a young, talented goaltender with a great work ethic and desire to succeed and we are very excited to see his continued development and improvement moving forward.”
A big question coming into this season was the goaltending and who would take charge. Korpisalo proved he was up to the task. Now he’s in the fold for at least two more seasons. The question now is how will the goaltending shake out next season and beyond.
Merzlikins is an RFA after this season. The Blue Jackets want to get him into the fold as well. But can two perceived number one’s share the crease in Columbus?
Why not? What if there’s another injury? And why not keep them fresh throughout the season? Assuming Merzlikins signs, the Blue Jackets have the option of playing a 1A/1B rotation with a chance to win every game they play. That’s a great situation to be in.
Plus both guys know they want to be number one. Having someone right there to push them should only make them better. A little friendly competition is never a bad thing amongst friends. Both will want to do everything they can to prove they deserve more starts.
In addition, this allows the Blue Jackets options. Say a team calls the Blue Jackets up about a goalie. They can listen to offers and see if something makes them better. They would have conversations from a position of power. They either have two number one’s to start next season or they get a number one and a significant upgrade somewhere else. Again that’s a great situation to be in.
Going into 2020-21, questions surrounding the Blue Jackets will still focus on goaltending but in a different light. We weren’t sure who could be a number one this season. Who would step up? Now both can be number one’s. Who takes the next step in their development and their career? Korpisalo still has a lot to prove. His new contract gives him a healthy raise while staying hungry for much more. This is a great deal for both the team and the player.
If the Blue Jackets do re-submit the contract on July 1 as indicated from their statement on Monday, they get into a low-risk, high-reward situation. Grigorenko would only cost them $1.2 million for one season. If it doesn’t work out, they don’t miss much.
If this does work out, the deal could end up being a steal. Skill has never been the issue with Grigorenko. Questions about him center around his work ethic. But he did have a couple of nice seasons in the KHL. He wants another chance to prove he can stick in the NHL.
What would Grigorenko provide to the Blue Jackets if he signs? He would bring extra depth down the lineup and can add offense. Notably he could provide a boost on the power play with his shot. This sort of feels like Sam Gagner, doesn’t it?
Here’s a bigger takeaway for me. Unlike several teams, the Blue Jackets have cap space on their side. They can take chances like this that are low risk because they have the flexibility others don’t. When the deal was first announced, it was met with mostly positive reactions. It wouldn’t surprise me if the team continues looking for these kind of players that won’t cost much but could provide a nice boost. Spending $1.2 million on something just entering their prime is a good bet to take. It’s a creative way to improve without investing too much.
We’ll see if they submit the contract again on July 1. If they do, it’s a shrewd move that could yield great results later. Even if it doesn’t, at least they tried.
- Kekalainen on Monday said that once the season returns, he expects to have most of their full team back. Outside of Brandon Dubinsky, who isn’t progressing and continues to deal with a chronic condition, others should be back. That includes Seth Jones, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Dean Kukan and possibly Alex Texier.
- Kekalainen also admitted he hopes that the NHL expands to a 24-team playoff. “I’m not sure there’s a fair way to cut to 16 teams right away.”
- Kekalainen does believe in Grigorenko’s potential: “We’ve watched him the last couple of years and have had interest in him the last couple of years. And he’s improved. But time will tell on the North American side. We do believe in his potential. We do think he has a lot of those ingredients that will make a player successful over here.”
- What did Korpisalo learn this season about being the number-one goalie? “You have to keep your level every single night. That’s something I learned this season. That’s something you have to maintain to be a top goalie in the league.”
We are starting to see an early glimpse of how the 2020-21 season will look. We have a commitment to an All-Star and some offensive depth. Expect there to be an emphasis on offense if other moves or signings are made.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager. Please take note of the updated Twitter handle: @mark_scheig.