The Columbus Blue Jackets are just like a dozen other teams at this point in the offseason: waiting for something to happen in the restricted free agent market. The Blue Jackets have yet to sign star defenseman Zach Werenski for the upcoming season but as GM Jarmo Kekalainen puts it to Aaron Portzline of The Athletic (subscription required) the high profile RFAs are “waiting for somebody else to go first.” That doesn’t mean things haven’t progressed with Werenski though, as Kekalainen explained that the team is still confident things will get done before the start of training camp.
Werenski, 22, was the eighth overall selection in 2015 out of the University of Michigan and after returning for his sophomore season in the NCAA became an immediate success in the NHL. Recording 47 points as a rookie in 2016-17 he finished behind only Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine in Calder Trophy voting and even earned himself a handful of Norris Trophy votes. In the two years following he has only increased his role on the team, averaging close to 23 minutes a night for the Blue Jackets in 2018-19.
Unlike Charlie McAvoy who is another restricted free agent defenseman waiting on a contract, Werenski has completed three full seasons in the NHL and is eligible for an offer sheet. That is obviously very unlikely at this point, but it puts his negotiation in a slightly different category. Werenski is four years away from unrestricted free agency meaning any contract longer than that will push the average annual value substantially higher. Portzline reports the two sides have discussed several different scenarios including three and five-year deals.
The Blue Jackets may look very different next season without Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky in the lineup, but still aren’t a team to completely give up on in the Metropolitan Division. That’s in large part due to the stud duo of Werenski and Seth Jones on defense, who are both still young enough to experience even further development.
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