Sabres Are Unlikely Candidates to Trade for Joonas Korpisalo

The Buffalo Sabres lost to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday night by a score of 6-2, and it was not an excellent debut for Malcolm Subban, who was acquired this past week from the Chicago Blackhawks. He allowed six goals on 25 shots and left halfway through the third period with an injury, which led to Aaron Dell playing the rest of the matchup.

Although he can play games in the short term, and let Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen develop with the Rochester Americans in the American Hockey League (AHL), they will eventually need somebody different.

The obvious candidate is Joonas Korpisalo from the Columbus Blue Jackets, as Elvis Merzlikins is their undeniable starting goaltender. He is currently in the final year of his contract, which is paying him an average annual value (AAV) of $2.8 million. 

Let’s take a deeper look into why this trade is unlikely to happen and the reasoning behind it.

Sabres Shouldn’t Part Ways With Draft Capital or Prospects

The likelihood of a rebuilding team such as the Sabres acquiring a goaltender in a trade does not logistically make sense. There isn’t a fit, considering the assets that need to go the other way, such as high draft picks and young prospects. The team acquired Subban in a trade because they only gave up future considerations, and he can play in the NHL. 

Kevyn Adams Buffalo Sabres
General Manager Kevyn Adams of the Buffalo Sabres, 2020 NHL Draft (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)

Considering Craig Anderson, Dustin Tokarski, and Dell’s current deals expire after this season, they will likely all walk in free agency. With a younger option in Luukkonen available to play in a tandem role by next season, they need an experienced netminder to help him.

Considering Korpisalo will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and there is a good chance he’s leaving the Blue Jackets, they may as well wait. The downside to this option is that he has to willingly sign with the organization, which might not be an appealing option for the 27-year-old. He is coming from a team that has not been seen much playoff success, and if he signed with the Sabres, he wouldn’t be putting himself in a better situation.

Related: Sabres’ Top Trade Chips For the 2022 Deadline

However, it also helps that Korpisalo could be signing a cheaper deal than expected a calendar year ago, and these are the reasons as to why.

Korpisalo Is Struggling This Season

He is having one of the worst seasons of his entire career on a Blue Jackets team performing great around him. Through eight games, he has a save percentage of .885, and his advanced stats don’t paint a better picture. According to MoneyPuck, his goals saved above expected of -3.6 ranks 13th worst in the league with goaltenders that have played a minimum of five games.

Joonas Korpisalo Columbus Blue Jackets
Joonas Korpisalo, Columbus Blue Jackets (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It also doesn’t help that Daniil Tarasov, who was emergency recalled by the team in the past week, performed excellently in his first two career starts. The sample size is small, but it’s just another reason he may no longer have a place in their organization. As well, the Blue Jackets will not want to pay their goaltending tandem over $10 million, with Merzlikins set to make an AAV of $5.4 million starting next season for the next five years.

It also might not be worth it for either the Sabres or Blue Jackets to give him a significant raise, especially if he can’t handle a starting position. These variables lead to the belief that he will be signing with a team that has a clear spot for him and makes sense in the immediate and long-term future.

He will not have a lot of leverage in the offseason due to his performance this season, so he could end up signing a cheaper contract. As Mark Scheig of THW has speculated in his latest news and rumors article, the Arizona Coyotes, Ottawa Senators, and Montreal Canadiens are among the teams that make sense to acquire him.

It looks like the Sabres will have to look elsewhere for a permanent fixture in the goaltending position, which will likely be during the offseason.