When NHL training camps open later this week, Zach Werenski will not be on the list of likely restricted free agents waiting to sign an extension with their team.
The Columbus Blue Jackets announced on Monday that the 22-year-old defenseman has agreed to a three-year $15 million extension, as first reported by NHL Network’s Kevin Weekes. Werenski played all 92 regular season and Stanley Cup playoff games last season for the team. He scored 11 goals and recorded 44 points during the regular season.
“Zach Werenski is one of the best young defensemen in the National Hockey League and we couldn’t be happier that he will continue to be a foundational player for the Columbus Blue Jackets,” said Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen. “He is a gifted offensive player that has continued to improve in all facets of the game and will be an elite player for many years.”
The three-year pact buys one RFA year for Werenski and two RFA years that gave him arbitration rights, per Cap Friendly. The extension will expire after the 2021-22 season where the blue liner will be eligible for arbitration and one year away from unrestricted free agency. He’ll make $4 million per season in the first two years and then $7 million in the final year, which would give him a large qualifying offer.
Despite things coming down to the final days before camp opened, there was never a doubt on Werenski’s side that he would be back with the Blue Jackets. His agent, Pat Brisson, told the Columbus Dispatch in August that he had been speaking with the team during the summer and was confident the defenseman would not miss any time. The team had similar feelings. “He’s a good player. We like him,” said Kekalainen. “We want to give him a fair contract and continue. We’re not the least bit worried.”
As Adam Gretz noted last month, since the start of the 2007-08 season, there have been only four defenseman who have played at least 100 games, averaged at least 0.50 points per game, and had a shot-attempt differential greater than 52 percent. Werenski is one of them along with Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty and Charlie McAvoy.
Could this be the first of the RFA dominos to fall this week as teams get together officially later this week? Certainly Werenski’s contract could have an affect on what fellow blue liners McAvoy and Ivan Provorov end up doing with their respective teams.
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.