It’s the right time of year for players to get healthy, but sometimes, that creates a tough decision for the front office. That’s the situation the Columbus Blue Jackets face right now. Additionally, one general manager is standing by his goalie while another went out to acquire one in the buildup to the trade deadline, and an NCAA goalie is on a historic hot streak.
Korpisalo On the Mend
The Blue Jackets got some good news Wednesday morning, announcing that goaltender Joonas Korpisalo would join the Cleveland Monsters of the American Hockey League (AHL) on a conditioning assignment. The goaltender has been out since late December after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus suffered in a controversial shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Korpisalo had been putting together a very strong first season as the Blue Jackets’ starter before the injury. He’d built a 17-10-4 record and maintained a .913 save percentage (SV%) and 2.49 goals-against average (GAA). Those aren’t earth-shattering numbers, but they were a godsend in filling the void left behind when Sergei Bobrovsky signed with the Florida Panthers over the summer.
Now that Korpisalo is close to a return, the Blue Jackets have a difficult decision to make. Their backup goaltender, Elvis Merzlikins, who didn’t record his first NHL win until immediately after Korpisalo’s injury, quickly thereafter became one of the hottest goaltenders on the planet. He collected five shutouts in eight games and built a terrific resume for himself (though even he admitted he didn’t know how he was doing it).
I have no idea what is going on, but it’s good. I know that it’s good… In Lugano [Merzlikins’ Swiss club] I did in three years maybe 10 shutouts.Elvis Merzlikins attempts to explain his shutout streak
Perhaps Merzlikins is coming back down to earth, as he’s gone 0-3-2 in his last five games, owning a .888 SV% in that time. That might make head coach John Tortorella’s decision easier when Korpisalo returns; however, having two strong goaltenders is certainly a good problem to have. It certainly seems that the Blue Jackets are becoming a goaltending factory.
MacLellan Says Holtby is Safe
Rumors are always going to circulate around the NHL, especially as the days tick down to the trade deadline. One rumor that has been persistent this season has been that the Washington Capitals might be willing to move on from their Vezina Trophy, Jennings Trophy, and Stanley Cup-winning goalie Braden Holtby (the only active goalie to win all three).
With Ilya Samsonov waiting in the wings and quite frankly outperforming Holtby, the time seems to make sense. Holtby is approaching unrestricted free agency and already 30-years-old. He’s struggling this season, with an .897 SV% and a 3.11 GAA. But Capitals’ general manager Brian MacLellan insists that, rumors or not, Holtby is their man and they have no plans to trade him.
I think our story’s been the same the whole year, that [Holtby’s] our guy and we’re going to try to compete for a [Stanley] Cup. I think we want him at the top of his game at the end of the year. I think at the end of the year we’ll sit down with Braden and talk about where we’re at. Samsonov’s been great, but still, he’s a young goalie. This is his first year, still developing. So we’ll sit down and evaluate everything at the end of the year.Capitals GM Brian MacLellan on Braden Holtby
Of course, a team looking for a goalie with Stanley Cup experience could always force MacLellan’s hand, but right now, Holtby’s numbers are not strong enough to make that likely. From the outside, it looks highly unlikely that the Capitals would re-sign Holtby this offseason, but for the time being, he isn’t going anywhere.
Aubrun Goes Streaking
It’s not often that NCAA Division III hockey draws a lot of eyes, but when they’re host to a goaltender on an incredible streak, that can change quickly. We’re talking about Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont, the oldest private military college in the United States.
The Norwich Cadets’ goaltender, Tom Aubrun, a native of France, set an NCAA Division III record with his fifth consecutive shutout last week. When he added a sixth, he earned a shoutout in one of the most widely-read hockey publications anywhere, Elliotte Friedman’s weekly column 31 Thoughts.
This may go down as the worst kiss of death ever, but congratulations to NCAA Division III Norwich College goalie Tom Aubrun, who has six consecutive shutouts for the Cadets. Aubrun, a 24-year-old from Chamonix, France (host of the first Winter Olympics in 1924), is being coached by Cam Ellsworth. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Ellsworth recruited lightly regarded Connor Hellebuyck to his former stop (UMass-Lowell) and helped him develop into a Vezina-calibre goalie. There have been a few NHL teams check out Aubrun, too.Elliotte Friedman shouts out Tom Aubrun
Aubrun’s Cadets are set to square off with the Castleton Spartans on Saturday, Feb. 22. Castleton were the victims of Aubrun’s fourth shutout back on Feb. 8, but this time, the stakes will be different. Saturday’s contest will be the New England Hockey Conference’s (NEHC) Quarterfinals. If Aubrun manages his seventh shutout (or at least leads his team to victory), they will play in the NEHC Semifinals one week later.
Bérubé on the Move
Most fans and analysts would argue that the New York Rangers already have too many goalies and that before the deadline arrives, they should look to trade one — most likely Alexandar Georgiev. But general manager Jeff Gorton had a different philosophy, and on Wednesday night, while his Rangers were playing the Chicago Blackhawks, he made a move to acquire goaltender Jean-François Bérubé from the Philadelphia Flyers organization.
The Rangers surrendered future considerations in the deal. Berube, 28, has not played in an NHL game since the 2017-18 season, so this is likely just an American Hockey League (AHL) depth move. In fact, it may be intended to lay the groundwork organizationally to move on from a goalie like Georgiev. Even so, with the picture only partially in focus, it was certainly one of the less-anticipated moves of deadline season.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.