Zach Werenski

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PHT Morning Skate: Werenski’s blueprint; Female referees gaining experience

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta still wants to own an NHL team. (Sportsnet)

• The structure of Zach Werenski‘s new deal could be used as a blueprint for future RFA deals. (TSN)

• What does the Werenski contract mean for Bruins RFAs Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy. (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

Alex Galchenyuk is starting to build some chemistry with Evgeni Malkin. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

• It looks like Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger is planning to start the season with Rasmus Ristolainen. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• What will the Blues bottom-six forward group look like come the start of the regular season? (St. Louis Game-Time)

• Barrett Hayden might be the most important addition for the Coyotes this season. (Arizona Republic)

• Female officials are thrilled to get NHL experience. (NHL.com)

• The Nashville Predators will look to dethrone the St. Louis Blues. (Predlines)

• The Lightning could easily find a way to use Patrick Maroon and Kevin Shattenkirk on their lethal power play. (Raw Charge)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Zach Werenski, Blue Jackets work out three-year, $15M extension

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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.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Tortorella sour about Blue Jackets’ off-season exodus

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Say ‘mass exodus in Columbus’ to John Tortorella and sit back and enjoy the fireworks.

After winning their first playoff series in franchise history, and doing so in such emphatic fashion by sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning after their historic regular season, three of the biggest names who helped get them there took their talents elsewhere this summer.

Sergei Bobrovsky signed a mammoth deal in Florida. Artemi Panarin signed an even bigger deal in New York with the Rangers. And Matt Duchene, who was brought in at the trade deadline, and perhaps one of the three that had the best (but still not great) odds of re-signing, left for the sights and sounds of Nashville.

It all made for a bit of a sour summer for Torts.

“I’m pissed,” Tortorella told The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline in a wide-ranging interview. “Yeah, I’m pissed. I’m pissed for my players. I’m pissed for my organization. And I’m pissed on behalf of my city.”

Tortorella let loose in the interview in a very Tortorellan way. He said he has tremendous respect for the players that left in the mass exodus, but if it was about winning, well…

[MORE: Panarin to Rangers | Bob to Panthers | Duchene to Predators]

“Don’t talk about god—- winning, like you want to go somewhere to win. It’s right there in front of you,” he said. “I respect them all. But I don’t want to hear “I want to win” when it’s right f—— here. I respect them, but I’m really pissed. It was right there, where we were really progressing.”

Columbus’ summer hasn’t included much, with only Gustav Nyquist being the notable addition — a move that Tortorella called a very good one by general manager Jarmo Kekalainen.

It won’t likely replace the loss of the team’s top point producer, a top-line center and a No. 1 goalie, however. The team will be looking for its youth to step up, including 19-year-old Alex Texier, who showed well for the club at the tail-end of last season, including eight playoff games.

The team will also be looking to Joonas Korpisalo to take the No. 1 job between the pipes in camp.

Tortorella said the whole thing has left him not having to worry about instilling a chip-on-the-shoulder mentality on the remaining players.

“I’m saying, ‘Hell with them, we want to be here, let’s get it together and get going.; I wish them nothing but the best, but I’m pissed that they leave Columbus, because I think we’ve got a really good thing going here,” he said.

Meanwhile, regarding restricted free agent Zach Werenski, Torts told Portzline that he’d be “disgusted” if his player was to missing training camp.

“I just don’t want him to miss a beat here,” Tortorella said, raving about how Werenski has grown as a player.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blue Jackets still have reasons for optimism after free agency exodus

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The 2018-19 season was the most successful one in the history of the Columbus Blue Jackets franchise.

They went all in at the trade deadline to load up for a postseason run, made the playoffs for the third year in a row (first time they have ever done that), and then upset the Presidents’ Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning in a stunning four-game sweep to advance to Round 2 for the first time in team history. While the end result was not what they wanted, it was still the first time fans of the team had ever had something to be truly excited about. Management paid a heavy price to reach that point (trading several draft picks and prospects) and then watched over the summer as a free agency exodus saw the departure of Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and Sergei Bobrovsky.

Those exits have left some significant holes on the roster, especially in net where they have no proven replacement for a two-time Vezina Trophy winning goalie.

It is possible — if not likely — that the team regresses this season, especially in a Metropolitan Division where every team is loading up on talent.

Even with all of that working against them, there are still reasons for Blue Jackets fans to have some cautious optimism about the short-and long-term outlook of the team.

Among them…

[More: 2018-19 In Review | Under Pressure | Three Questions | X-Factor]

Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are an elite defense pairing

The Blue Jackets may have lost All-Stars at forward and in net, but they still have two of them on their blue line. The Werenski-Jones duo has been one of the best in the NHL over the past three seasons. During that time they have played more than 3,000 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey with the Blue Jackets outscoring their opponents by 16 goals and controlling more than 52 percent of the total shot attempts, scoring chances, and high-danger scoring chances. Jones turns 25 at the start of the season while Werenski will only be entering his age 22 season, meaning both of them should still be on top of their game for the foreseeable future with still room to improve. The rest of the blue line might need some work, but finding even one defender of this caliber is a difficult task. The Blue Jackets have two of them.

Cam Atkinson is better than you might realize

He may not be a star or total point producer on the level of Panarin, but Atkinson has been one of the league’s best goal-scorers for the past four years and is coming off of a career-high 41-goal effort during the 2018-19 season. While he might be due for a slight regression from that mark, only 11 players have scored more totals goals than him since the start of the 2015-16 season. Only nine have scored more even-strength goals. A lot will be made over what they lost this summer, but they still have some good veterans returning and Atkinson is at the top of that list.

Gustav Nyquist looks like a strong addition

Is he going to completely replace what the Blue Jackets are losing in Panarin? No he is not. But that doesn’t mean he can’t still be a great pickup, especially at that salary cap hit. You know every year he is going to give you 20 goals, 50 points, and help drive possession. He is an excellent all-around player.

They have a ton of salary cap space to play with

Even when taking into account the money they will need to re-sign Werenski this summer, the Blue Jackets have more salary cap space than all but two teams in the NHL, meaning they have the flexibility to make in-season additions to help fill weaknesses, whether they be in net or on the wing.

Pierre-Luc Dubois could be their next star

He is our X-factor for the Blue Jackets this season. Dubois is trending toward becoming an impact player in the middle of the Blue Jackets’ lineup and could be on the verge of a monster season based on what he has done over the first two years of his career. If he continues on that trajectory and takes a big leap in his development it will go a long way toward helping the Blue Jackets replace what they have lost over the summer.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Werenski’s contract, goaltending are top questions for Blue Jackets

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Pondering three important questions for the 2019-20 Columbus Blue Jackets.

1. What will Zach Werenski‘s contract look like, and when will it get signed?

This is currently the most pressing issue for the Blue Jackets.

Werenski is one of the team’s core players, helps form one of the league’s best defense duos alongside Seth Jones, and has had an outstanding start to his NHL career with his best years still in front of him.

Based on his current level of production he should be in line for a huge contract (maybe something in the seven-or eight-year, and $8 million per year range?) and the Blue Jackets certainly have the salary cap space to accommodate it. It is just a matter of when it actually gets signed and how much it’s for.

Like all of the remaining unsigned RFA’s (and there are a lot of significant ones) it is probably going to be a lengthy waiting game while everyone waits for the first shoe to drop around the league.

[More: 2018-19 In Review | Under Pressure | X-Factor]

2. Who is going to emerge as the starting goalie?

This is the position that is going to make-or-break the Blue Jackets’ season.

Sergei Bobrovsky may have had some issues in the playoffs, but he was also a major reason why the team managed to reach them in four of his six full seasons as the starting goalie.

Bobrovsky was a two-time Vezina Trophy winner in Columbus and one of the best, most productive goalies in the league during his tenure. That is not an easy thing to replace, and right now the Blue Jackets have no proven goalie on the roster.

The in-house candidates are Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins and it remains to be seen whether either one is capable of being a No. 1 starter in the NHL. Korpisalo has a sub-.900 save percentage over the past three seasons as a backup, while Merzlikins is 25 years old and has never played a game in North America. He is an intriguing option, but is a complete unknown at this point. If neither one is capable of stepping up to take control of the job it will be a major problem for the Blue Jackets that will become general manager Jarmo Kekalainen’s top priority to fix.

3. How will they replace the offense they lost this summer?

Pretty much everyone in hockey was anticipating a free agency exodus out of Columbus this summer with Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and Bobrovsky all moving on to new teams. That is a lot of offense walking out the door, especially as it relates to Panarin who has been one of the NHL’s most dynamic offensive players and was the one true game-changing forward the team had.

That is obviously a lot to replace, but it doesn’t end there as there are another set of questions that arise with the players that are returning.

Among them: What if Cam Atkinson isn’t a 40-goal scorer again? What if Oliver Bjorkstrand, after scoring 23 goals, regresses? Will Pierre-Luc Dubois take another big step in his development? All of that can add up and only add to what the Blue Jackets need to replace this season.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.