Elvis Merzlikins is a strong option for the Edmonton Oilers in the goaltending market

Photo credit:Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Laing
6 months ago
It has been a week of smoke in the world of sports. The Edmonton Oilers have been scouting the Columbus Blue Jackets multiple times, while out east, the Toronto Blue Jays (who I also write about) have been linked to both Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto, two of the best bats in the league.
In Edmonton, however, the offence isn’t what the Oilers want to add: it’s goaltending. Jack Campbell seems to be rebounding in Bakersfield, but who knows if that will turn into any NHL success. The team appears content to give him another look, and we could expect that sooner rather than later.
Still, the Oilers have been in Columbus last week and keeping an eye on Elvis Merzlikins, and his game. He might be one of the best options for the Oilers in the market right now. From a trade perspective, it would make sense. The Blue Jackets are struggling and again look like a lottery team this year. If they want to go all in on that, Merzlikins, having a rebound season this year, isn’t exactly a tank commander.
Meanwhile, Campbell has struggled to find his game for two seasons now. Things have been disastrous for him in Edmonton, and a fresh start will almost assuredly be on its way in the form of a buyout this summer or a trade in season. He has connections to Columbus in the way of their goaltending coach, Manny Legace, who he requested and was granted to have come to Bakersfield. The pair worked together last offseason.
There’s been lots of talk about Merzlikins, and his disastrous 2022-23 season — the first of a five-year pact paying him $5.4-million. He posted a 7-18-2 record, .876 save percentage, 4.23 GAA and stopped 13.17 goals below expected, according to Natural Stat Trick.
What’s worth noting is Cambell’s numbers in comparison for last season: a 21-9-4 record, a .888 save percentage, 3.41 GAA while stopping 15.7 goals below expected. His numbers, by in large, were worse.
Where’s the difference? Campbell played in front of a team that scored the most goals in the NHL and had Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, as well as a formidable defence which gave up the 13th most goals, right near the league average mark. Columbus, meanwhile, scored the third-fewest goals, and allowed the second-most. Their defence was non-existent, and their offence was as limp as a wet noodle.

Statistics for all situations for Elvis Merzlikins and Jack Campbell, before games played on Dec. 2, 2023. Data via Evolving Hockey.

Merzlikins’ 21-22 campaign saw his numbers take a step backwards, while his 22-23 season fell off the rails. In July 2021, Merzlikins lost his close friend, Matīss Kivlenieks, in a tragic accident where an errant firework struck him, claiming his life but saving the lives of many around him. It was something that caused issues for him that season, too.
Meanwhile, Merzlikins saw further regression in his game in 22-23, plummeting to career-low levels. The numbers over the two seasons for the now 29-year-old appear to be significant outliers, with his numbers this season rebounding above his career averages in terms of save percentage and GAA. Even still, his 21-22 numbers hovered near average, and looking at his numbers throughout his career, he is punching well above his weight on some terrible Blue Jackets teams.
GSAA, goals saved above average, is a metric that evaluates goaltending performances similarly to expected goal share. As described by Evolving Hockey, the number marks the difference between a goaltender’s goals against, and goals against mark with the same shots against, and the league average save percentage. The league average for the mark over the last five years is 0.08, and Merzlikins, over his career, has stopped -.7 GSAA, putting him in the 61st percentile of all goaltenders and 59th of 150 goaltenders.
What’s notable in this, however, is what happens to Merzlikins’ numbers when that 22-23 season is removed from the data set. His total goals saved are above average, then sit at 24.17, putting him in the 90th percentile of all goaltenders and 14th of 140 goaltenders.
Of course, this doesn’t mean ignoring that singular outlier season. Contextualizing it, however, is what needs to be done.
Acquiring Merzlikins would undoubtedly have its risks for the Oilers. He could theoretically regress at any point, much like Campbell did, looking at his numbers above. The difference between the two is that we’re seeing a significant rebound from Merzlikins this season, and his 4.4 GSAA this season is 16th among 74 netminders who have faced at least 50 Fenwick.
Couple that with him playing in front of a much better team in the Oilers, and a goaltending duo of Merzlikins and Skinner would make sense.
Let’s see where the smoke leads.

Zach Laing is the Nation Network’s news director and senior columnist. He can be followed on Twitter at @zjlaing, or reached by email at zach@thenationnetwork.com.

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