It's Too Early To Worry About Zach Werenski's Lack of a Contract With the Blue Jackets

By Rob Mixer on July 26, 2019 at 11:51 am
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski protects the puck against Nate Thompson of the Los Angeles Kings during a game at STAPLES Center.

Business is slow these days.

NHL teams don't seem in any hurry to sign their prominent restricted free agents to new contracts, and while in some cases these are foregone conclusions, it's an important step in a player's career (from a business standpoint).

You're setting yourself up for the next contract, presumably one that connects you to unrestricted free agent status or another RFA contract that follows a bridge deal. While the team owns your rights and you may have arbitration rights yourself, it's not as simple as signing on the dotted line and moving on to the upcoming season.

For the NHL's young stars, their second contract could – and should – be a lucrative one. And it shouldn't be a surprise that teams aren't willing to lay down a wad of cash without squeezing agents and dragging these things along.

Of course, it doesn't make it any less worrisome when key players are unsigned late into July and early August. 

Zach Werenski is one of those talented young players without a contract, and we're creeping up on August (typically the most dormant month of the NHL's calendar). From's profile of yet-to-be-signed RFAs:

The 21-year-old had 44 points (11 goals, 33 assists) in 82 games last season and six points (one goal, five assists) in 10 playoff games. Werenski was a finalist for the Calder in 2015-16, when he had 47 points (11 goals, 36 assists) and was plus-17 in 78 games. He has 128 points (38 goals, 90 assists) in 237 NHL games.

In three NHL seasons, the 22-year-old Werenski has point totals of 47, 37, and 44 – which is the statistical way of saying "he's going to get paid." He has already become one of the most productive defensemen in Blue Jackets history, and there's plenty of potential to be unlocked too...which puts the club in a precarious position as they negotiate his second contract with agent Pat Brisson.

Looking around the NHL, the Blue Jackets aren't alone in this. 

Patrik Laine is one of the premier young scorers in the league, tallying at least 30 goals in each of his first three seasons with a career-best 44 in 2017-18. Make no mistake here, the Winnipeg Jets know they're going to hand over a hefty salary to Laine, but this won't be an easy one to settle on. 

Mitch Marner is coming off a massive 94-point season and his name has rumbled around the offer sheet rumor mill – with the Blue Jackets mentioned as a team with keen interest in his situation. The Maple Leafs and GM Kyle Dubas have publicly said they're willing to match any offer sheet, but Marner's camp is reportedly seeking big-time money (as they should) and it won't be a cake walk to get this one done.

Charlie McAvoy is the biggest name among unsigned RFA defensemen, but his situation is a bit different than Werenski's. McAvoy can't sign an offer sheet because he played fewer than 10 NHL games in his rookie season of 2016-17, so the Bruins can wait this one out and get him signed before the Dec. 1 deadline. Werenski's offensive numbers are far superior to McAvoy, as well, but McAvoy plays more minutes on average.

Other notable RFAs who, as of July 26, haven't signed new deals: Brayden Point (Tampa Bay), Kyle Connor (Winnipeg), Mikko Rantanen (Colorado).

So, what are we getting at here?

First, it's going to take some time. Negotiations are often fickle and border on contentious, and the Blue Jackets are no strangers to such developments. They're going to get Werenski signed before the deadline (one would assume), but it won't be without its twists and turns. And aside from the financial aspect, there's the "term" conversation; would Werenski accept a shorter term deal that presumably carries a higher cap hit, or is he looking for a longer-term agreement? A shorter deal with similar production in subsequent years sets him up for a bigger payday down the road, and looking to his right, he would see Seth Jones' team-friendly deal ($5.4M AAV through 2022) and maybe think that's not the way to go.

Yes, it's a bit unnerving that there's been little news on Werenski's contract negotiation, but it may just be the new way of doing business with RFAs. After all, we just saw the first offer sheet (Sebastian Aho with Montreal, matched by Carolina) in seven years. 


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