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Does an Elvis Merzlikins Trade Make Sense for the Devils?

The 29-year-old goaltender has three years remaining on his contract with a $5.4 million AAV.



New Jersey Devils

The writing was on the wall for Elvis Merzlikins and the Columbus Blue Jackets. On Monday, following a 4-3 shootout victory in which Merzlikins earned the win, the Latvian goaltender clarified he has asked to be traded. The New Jersey Devils are certainly in need of a goaltender. Does a trade between division rivals make sense?

Merzlikins is the kind of person who isn’t afraid to speak his mind. He did just that after showing an outpouring of emotion after the Blue Jackets defeated the Vancouver Canucks Monday night. That’s because, on Friday, Merzlikins requested a “new scenario” to play in. There was a bit of confusion as to the actual meaning of the 29-year-old goaltender’s message. With the Blue Jackets carrying three goaltenders, it was unclear if Merzlikins meant a new scenario with Columbus, or elsewhere. He cleared that up on Monday.

“After my last interview that everyone knows I requested for trade,” Merzlikins clarified. “Everyone was still here playing for me and they’re playing for me and blocking the shots for me and this is awesome. I really appreciate them. It was a (really easy) game for me.”

Merzlikins is in the midst of a rebound season. In 2022-23, he registered an NHL-worst -25.9 goals saved above expected (GSAx) according to MoneyPuck. However, he’s been much better this season on an equally dismal Blue Jackets team having thus far accrued a 3.22 GAA, .906 SV%, and .09 GSAx.

There’s certainly reason for the Devils to take pause in assessing whether or not Merzlikins is the right acquisition for them. First, much like Vitek Vanecek this season, he was very recently the worst goaltender in the NHL. Second, although the salary cap is going up, Merzlikins is tied down with term. Following his 30th birthday this April, Merzlikins is signed for three more years at a $5.4 million cap hit.

Cap space won’t be an issue this season, however. Dougie Hamilton is expected to hit long-term injured reserve. The Devils will be relieved of his $9 million AAV. As for the future, New Jersey is working with $19,837,500 in cap space this summer. They’ll have some decisions to make there, but goaltending has by and large been their biggest issue. It makes sense for the Devils to strike a deal with their division rival, something they’ve done before with Damon Severson.

Now, in terms of who is available on the goaltending market, perhaps this is a bit of a more desirable situation. The Devils have reportedly checked in on the likes of John Gibson and Jacob Markstrom. Both cost more in term & AAV, plus are further into their 30s than Merzlikins is.

Here’s the thing. The Devils are receiving below-average goaltending (aside from Nico Daws’ small sample). With Daws now providing some quality goaltending, the Devils might have a solution in net, but who is really to know?

Merzlikins’ career sample is at least a bit more encouraging. He owns a career 63-70-28 with a 3.15 GAA, .906 SV%, and nine shutouts in 174 NHL games. If the Devils can acquire Merzlikins for the right price, it would make New Jersey’s crease much stronger in tandem with Daws.

The question is, will the Blue Jackets even be able to move him? According to Frank Seravlli, he’s not convinced. NHL teams have known the Blue Jackets goaltender was available already. Merzlikins exposing it doesn’t push the needle any further.

“(I’m) not sold that’s gonna be the case,” Seravalli explained when prompted if Merzlikins is a deadline acquisition for a buying team. “This has made it out publicly now by virtue of Elvis Mirzlikins, basically saying it. You kind of got a sense from the Columbus Blue Jackets and [head coach] Pascal Vincent of what he was thinking about in terms of not playing for a stretch of time…This was kind of writing on the wall, and here’s the thing…NHL teams have known Merzlikins has been looking for a change of scenery for months now.”

If the Devils can make it happen, it makes sense. However, that’s a big if, and not because of New Jersey’s ability to make a move.

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