The saga continues. Joonas Korpisalo has made for what feels like one of the longest farewell tours in Columbus Blue Jackets history.
Prior to this season, the writing was on the wall for Korpisalo, as the other half of the goaltending tandem received a vote of confidence from Blue Jackets’ brass with Elvis Merzlikins receiving a five-year contract extension. At $27 million total, his $5.4 million average annual value (AAV) cap hit put him in starting goalie salary range. That put Korpisalo, who was once thought to be a legitimate option as a long-term starting goalie for the Blue Jackets, out as the heir apparent to Sergei Bobrovsky.
Things didn’t pan out as expected. Merzlikins came to Ohio following Bobrovsky’s departure and seemingly squeezed Korpisalo out of the 1A job. With each player still in the upswing of their careers and the Blue Jackets looking for trade chips, the adage ‘this town ain’t big enough for the both of us’ comes to mind. At the time of Merzlikins’ extension, general manager (GM) Jarmo Kekalainen said he was open to keeping both goalies past the deadline and evaluating as the season went on.
With the recent emergence of Jean-Francois Berube, it could be argued that Korpisalo is the worst of the four to tend the Blue Jackets’ crease. Granted, small sample sizes for both Berube and potential goalie-of-the-future Daniil Tarasov, but they have greatly exceeded Korpisalo in those samples and proven that keeping him isn’t the necessity that it once might have been. The question remains if they will get a fair return for a goalie who still has a lot of promise, given how the season has gone.
Korpisalo Has Been Down and Out
Korpisalo is an NHL-calibre goalie, but the past couple of seasons have put into question whether he is capable of being the starting goalie he was once projected to be. The peak of his trade value came shortly after the record-setting 85-save performance against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round of the 2020 NHL Playoffs. The Finn started nine out of ten games, including taking over for Merzlikins in another classic Toronto Maple Leafs’ playoff upset in the play-in round.
Since those playoffs, Korpisalo has had a subpar .891 save percentage (SV%) with the worst of it coming this season. Through 18 games in 2021-22, Korpisalo has six wins, a .887 SV%, and 3.82 goals-against average (GAA).
It’s not all Korpisalo’s fault, as he hasn’t had any help from his teammates. Early in the season, the Blue Jackets looked different on the ice in front of him than when in front of Merzlikins. There’s nothing tangible about it, but Merzlikins seems to have a confidence that radiates out to the players in front of him that Korpisalo doesn’t. Some sort of ‘it’ factor that Korpisalo is missing, but the team responds to.
Korpisalo has also been bitten by the injury bug since those playoffs. Last season he suffered a season-ending lower-body injury in late April. He found his way back into the lineup this year and took a lesser share of the games played from Merzlikins. Things got worse in the last few weeks, as he found himself on the injured reserve, once again, retroactive to Feb. 15.
There’s no doubt that Korpisalo is not quite as attractive of a piece as he once was, but that’s not the only thing working against a fair return for the netminder.
The Goaltender Trade Market Is Not Favorable
The market has swung in an unfavorable direction for Korpisalo.
This is a market where rental goalies – those in the last year of their deal – are literally being given away. Now, granted Korpisalo hasn’t quite fallen as far as Carter Hutton – whom the Maple Leafs just acquired from the Arizona Coyotes for bupkis – but the trade has set the market and it’s a pretty low bar.
What might come as a saving grace for Korpisalo as an asset is his lower cap hit. His $2.8 million salary can be eaten a little by the Blue Jackets, which in the flat-cap era, small hits are all that can be afforded by a plethora of teams with CapFriendly projecting 11 to have zero cap space and five more with less space than the minimum contract amount for a player. His low cap-hit, plus the Blue Jackets’ ability to absorb and retain some cap of their own could be what facilitates a trade for the Finn.
The Blue Jackets Missed Their Chance
With his injury status, poor performance this season and pending unrestricted free agency status, he may no longer be a player that NHL teams will be clamouring to get at this year’s trade deadline. With Max Domi and Jack Roslovic also presumably on the trade block, Korpisalo isn’t even the most valuable trade chip on the Blue Jackets anymore.
Korpisalo was once thought to be able to bring in some key pieces in the rental market, but circumstances have led to what will likely be either a return of pennies on the dollar or another player lost for nothing to the vacuum of free agency. While his trade value has never been lower and the Blue Jackets missed their chance to sell high on the Finn, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t take whatever they can get for him at the deadline, as it seems he simply isn’t a part of the team’s long-term plans anymore.
Writer covering the Columbus Blue Jackets for THW since August 2021.
Co-host of the Blue Jackets’ focused “Union Junction Podcast” on The Hockey Writers’ podcast network.
Also, a radio personality and reporter currently based on Vancouver Island.