After several difficult years of asset management, capped off by the recent forced departure of Seth Jones, the Columbus Blue Jackets are stepping up do whatever it takes to keep their stars. In the wake of the Jones trade, no player is more important than fellow star defenseman Zach Werenski – and the team just made that clear. The Blue Jackets have signed Werenski to a six-year, $57.5MM contract extension, as first reported by Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston and confirmed by the team. That contract, which begins in the 2022-23 season, will make Werenski the third-highest paid defenseman in the NHL at a $9.583MM AAV, even higher than Jones’ recent deal. The breakdown is as follows:
- 2022-23: $2MM SB, $8MM salary
- 2023-24: $2MM SB, $10MM salary
- 2024-25: $2MM SB, $9.5MM salary
- 2025-26: $2MM SB, $7.5MM salary
- 2026-27: $6.25MM SB, $1MM salary
- 2027-28: $6.25MM SB, $1MM salary
The structure of this deal makes the contract buyout-proof, but that shouldn’t be an issue for the Blue Jackets. Werenski has committed to the team, publicly stating his excitement to remain in Columbus, and that is exactly what the team is hoping for. The team and city have developed a reputation for not being able to retain top talent in recent years, but they are hoping to change that perception. Rewarding players with loyalty (and a lot of money) is a great first step.
While this is certainly a large sum to award Werenski, it isn’t a massive overpay. Perhaps in the shadow of Jones, Werenski has quietly been one of the best offensive defensemen in the NHL since breaking in with an All-Rookie debut season in 2016-17. At 24, Werenski already has 335 games under his belt, in which he has recorded 65 goals and 189 points, among the top blue line scorers in that time. Consistency has been the most impressive part of his offense as well; Werenski recorded double-digit goals and 37-47 points in each of his first four full NHL seasons, including a 2019-20 campaign in which he played only 63 games. This year, he again played at a full-season pace of 16 goals and 47 points.
On top of his elite shot, puck possession, and offensive instincts, Werenski has also developed into a solid defensive player who has been using his 6’2″ frame more effectively of late. This more mature, well-rounded game has allowed Columbus to use Werenski in all situations, leading to a career-high 24:22 time on ice per game this year. That role is only going to increase with Jones gone and Werenski will also be asked to help develop the likes of new additions Jake Bean, Adam Boqvist, and eventually Corson Ceulemans and Stanislav Svozil. Werenski seems ready for the challenge.