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NHL Rumors: Latest Buzz on Elvis Merzlikins Contract Talks, More

Megan ArmstrongSenior Analyst IIMarch 24, 2020

FILE - In this Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2020, file photo, Columbus Blue Jackets' Elvis Merzlikins, of Latvia, puts his facemask on after a time out in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Winnipeg Jets in Columbus, Ohio. The rookie goaltender from Latvia has been terrific since stepping in for injured starter Joonas Korpisalo on Dec. 31.  (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete, File)
Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

The 2019-20 NHL season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic on March 12, leaving the regular season's remaining three-and-a-half weeks up in the air.

That doesn't mean the league's 31 teams have to stop preparing for the future, though.

The Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks were among teams reported to be amid reconstruction of their rosters earlier in March.

Let's dive into two rumors below.

               

Do the Blue Jackets Want to Secure Elvis Merzlikins Long-Term?

"Sounds like Columbus and entertaining rookie Elvis Merzlikins are working on a contract extension," Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported on March 11.

The Blue Jackets signed the goaltender to a one-year entry level contract on March 2019, and he's slated to hit restricted free agency following this season.

Columbus originally drafted Merzlikins in the third round of the 2014 NHL Entry draft. He excelled in the Swiss National League with Lugano from 2013 through the 2018-19 campaign, and he was named Latvian Player of the Year in January 2019 for his efforts with his national team.

"Elvis Merzlikins is a big, athletic goaltender who has performed at a very high level in the Swiss League with Lugano and is ready to take the next step in his career," Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement when the team signed him. "We think he is the best goaltender outside of the NHL right now and are excited about his future with our organization."

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Merzlikins has lived up to the hype since joining the Blue Jackets. His first win with the team came on New Year's Eve, a 4-1 victory over the visiting Florida Panthers in which he made 36 saves:

Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider

Elvis Merzlikins leads the Blue Jackets our for warmups ahead of his first start in Nationwide Arena #CBJ https://t.co/hBaRUrZ2Fy

The 25-year-old continued that momentum through January:

Rob Reese @NHLReese

Elvis Merzlikins has five-straight wins including three shutouts over the span Does he have an outside chance at the calder trophy if #CBJ makes the playoffs? https://t.co/S5JL5En8ud

NHL @NHL

Elvis Merzlikins (@Merzly30) = 🔥 Eight straight wins, back-to-back shutouts and a League-leading five shutouts on the season. https://t.co/OcPlR14sg7

Merzlikins suffered a concussion in late February but recorded 26 saves in his return on March 8.

Overall, he has 848 saves for a 92.3 save percentage across 33 games (31 starts). He has gone 13-9 as the Blue Jackets' starting goaltender with five shutouts.

Columbus began this season with Joonas Korpisalo in the net, but the Finn suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee in late December that allowed for Merzlikins to step in and catch fire.

Korpisalo is also 25 years old and scheduled to become a restricted free agent in the offseason.

         

Swedish Star Fredrik Handemark Drawing NHL Interest

Friedman also reported on March 11 that Swedish center Fredrik Handemark is drawing interest from the likes of the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks.

The 26-year-old has played in the Swedish Hockey League since 2013. He played for Leksands IF from 2013 through '15 and has been with the Malmo Redhawks since the 2015-16 season.

His breakout campaign came in 2016-17 when he scored 13 goals and recorded 19 assists in 47 regular-season games before adding three goals and six assists in 13 playoff games.

Handemark has a career-high 14 goals and 24 assists across 52 games this season with the Redhawks.

The Red Wings and Sharks each have reason to be looking for external reinforcements.

Detroit is the worst team in the Eastern Conference at 17-49-5 (39 points) through 71 games and a whopping 23 points behind the second-last Ottawa Senators. 

San Jose, meanwhile, is at the bottom of the Western Conference with a 29-36-5 (63 points) record.

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