The Oilers still need to find some reliable help for Stuart Skinner in net, with increasing speculation linking them to Elvis Merzlikins in Columbus.
After a horrific start to the season, Stuart Skinner has been excellent of late for the Oilers. He’s 8-2-0 in his last 10 starts, and has particularly stood out in his previous five games, with a .943 save percentage and 1.58 Goals Against Average (GAA).
However, as much as fans are relieved to see the return to form of Skinner, there is still an underlying concern. He’s started the previous six games and 12 of the last 13, which is not sustainable long-term.
Calvin Pickard has been fine in his limited action, but he’s not the right option to be the primary backup to Skinner. The thinking is that Jack Campbell will be recalled sooner than later, to get one final chance to prove himself in Edmonton.
As much as we still think it’s too soon to bring Campbell back — he just hasn’t been good enough in the AHL with the Condors — we do understand why it’s being considered. And part of it is about putting him in the shop window, in the Oilers’ search for a better option to either backup Skinner or work in tandem with him.
So what about Elvis Merzļikins?
Which brings up to the main reason for this article, Elvis Merzļikins. There have been several reports of late linking the Oilers to the Columbus Blue Jackets, particularly their main goalie.
This includes Sportsnet‘s Elliotte Friedman, who recently wrote that Oilers executives and scouts have been in Columbus to watch the team play. Friedman went on to add that Daniil Tarasov is close to returning, meaning the Blue Jackets will have one too many goalies, unless they plan to keep all three.
You can also add interesting comments made by Bob Stauffer of Oilers Now. Giving due credit to NHL Trade Talk via Yard Barker, Stauffer said the Oilers players would be in favour of bringing Merzļikins in.
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Stauffer also noted that Merzļikins’ agent, Gerry Johansson, is based in Edmonton. In addition, apparently the goalie is open to exploring a change of scenery.
That last point is particularly relevant, in terms of how it links to Campbell, who similarly could use a fresh start. Talented but also inconsistent, he’s displayed the worst form of his NHL career since being signed by the Oilers.
The salary cap implications
Talking of which, the contract factor would be something of significance to the Oilers, given their tight salary cap situation this season. Campbell is in the second season of a five-year contract which has an annual cap hit of $5 million, while Merzļikins is at the same stage of a five-year deal with an annual hit of $5.4 million.
All this aside, there is just the reality that Merzļikins is a talented and athletic goalkeeper. He certainly has what it takes, to be a quality option as part of a goalie tandem.
Critics may point to the 29-year-old never quite matching his play during his NHL rookie campaign in 2019-20. That season he had a .923 save percentage and 2.35 GAA in 33 games, and was named to the All-Rookie Team.
However, this doesn’t take away from the reality that Merzļikins has been a quality goaltender in general during his time in the NHL. At the time of posting, he has a .906 save percentage and 3.13 GAA in 169 total appearances.
There is also the factor of playing behind a blue line which isn’t that great, highlighted by the Blue Jackets allowing the fourth-most shots on goal per game this season. And yet the Latvia native has still performed well, with a .910 save percentage and 3.10 GAA.
Of course we appreciate that statistics can often be manipulated to support any argument. Overall though, there is a lot to like about the prospect of Merzļikins in goal for the Oilers.
As a final note, there will be those questioning why the Blue Jackets would even want to part company with Merzļikins. However, it’s well known that the team is in full rebuild mode which can only help the Oilers, pending if it’s Campbell and/or other pieces who would be accepted in exchange.