Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski has decided to make a change in representation as he nears the window to begin working on a contract extension. According to Aaron Portzline of The Athletic (subscription link), he is no longer being represented by CAA’s Pat Brisson and will soon sign with Judd Moldaver of the Wassermann and Orr Hockey Group.
The 23-year-old will enter the third and final year of his current contract this summer meaning that when the 2021-22 calendar officially begins in July with free agency, he will become eligible to sign a new deal. His current pact carries a $5MM AAV which is certainly below market value but his salary jumps to $7MM next year which means that will serve as his qualifying offer in 2022, one that Columbus will certainly make.
At that point, he will be eligible for salary arbitration and a year away from unrestricted free agency so if talks don’t go well, he can simply elect to go to a hearing, get what he gets, and try his luck on the open market. That makes this news more interesting as it suggests that Werenski’s intention is to try to work on a deal this summer; otherwise, there wouldn’t have been a need to make the agent switch now.
Werenski has become a legitimate top-pairing defenseman, recording at least 37 points in each of his first four seasons while logging over 22 minutes per game in all but his rookie year. This season has been a bit tough due to injuries as a hernia and two lower-body injuries have limited him to just 35 games although he has averaged a career-high 24:22 per game which means this deal should be high on the priority list.
Having said that, it may have to wait a little bit as fellow blueliner Seth Jones – who happens to still be represented by Brisson, no less – is also entering the final year of his contract and is eligible for an extension. Unlike Werenski, however, Jones would be unrestricted next summer if he remained unsigned while Werenski has that RFA year remaining so GM Jarmo Kekalainen may have to put Jones’ file at the top of his to-do list.
The current salary cap climate certainly doesn’t work in Werenski’s favor but Columbus is a team that has plenty of flexibility and has had some difficulty retaining some of their top players. Expect Kekalainen to try to avoid history repeating itself by working on a new deal for Werenski sometime this summer except it will now be handled by Moldaver and his agency.