That's how much Zach Werenski will count against the salary cap for the next six seasons after signing an extension last July. According to capfriendly.com, Werenski will be the third highest-paid defenseman in the NHL, behind only Erik Karlsson and Drew Doughty, and the highest-paid player in Blue Jackets history based on average annual value (AAV).
The Blue Jackets entered the 2021-22 campaign without their top-ranked and third-ranked skaters in average time on ice from the previous season, Seth Jones and David Savard. Their departures, Jones's in particular, opened up the role of a "number one" defenseman. However, not only was there a tangible hole on the team but Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson, and the aforementioned Savard left a leadership void.
In one year, Zach Werenski filled both of those voids as a 24-year-old. He wore the 'A' on his sweater as an assistant captain while leading the team in time on ice per game by over three minutes at 25:40, which tied Cale Makar for sixth in the NHL. He also was third among Blue Jackets defensemen in short-handed time on ice per game, and third overall on the team in power-play time on ice per game. In 68 games this season, his 11 goals, career-high 37 assists, and 48 points rank tied for eighth, second, and fifth on the team, respectively.
Was Not Easy
Despite the success Werenski had this season, he said it didn't come easily.
"I think dealing with that was a little difficult at times for me," he said when asked about the new roles he's taken on this season. "Just trying to learn all the minutes, that number one D role, different situations, being a leader. I couldn't have been happier with how much I learned this season."
Various injuries kept Werenski out of 14 games this season, including taking a puck to the nose, which caused a broken nose that kept him out of the final two games of the year.
"I'm excited to stop getting hit in the head," he said.
A Fun Room
Despite missing the playoffs the last two seasons, Werenski spoke highly of the locker room.
"I think our locker room is one of the best we've had since I've been here," he said. "And we've had some really good locker rooms."
Despite some trying times during the season, Werenski had fun at the rink.
"This year, even when we were going through losing streaks and rough patches in our season, I think every day I had fun coming to the rink and I enjoyed it," he said.
Werenski said "he was planning on going to" the IIHF World Championships beginning on May 13, but added, "I probably won't be able to" because of his broken nose.
Entering the first year of a big contract, Zach Werenski solidified himself as the franchise player in Columbus. He's looking forward to the 2022-23 season.
"Moving into next year," he said. "I think guys can go home this summer, and young guys know how hard the league is now. They know what they have to work on. And I think coming into next season, we should be excited for it."