The Blue Jackets' offseason is coming together nicely.
On Thursday night, seemingly out of nowhere, they dropped a bombshell.
Zach Werenski signed a six-year contract worth a total of $57.5 million, an annual cap hit of $9.583 million. It's the largest AAV in Blue Jackets history and ensures Werenski – a critical part of their team – is around for the foreseeable future. The extension takes effect with the 2022-23 season and buys five years of unrestricted free agency.
There's no underselling this. It's a major win for GM Jarmo Kekalainen.
"Zach Werenski has been one of the top defensemen in the National Hockey League over the past five years and we are thrilled that he will continue to be a Blue Jacket and the leader of our blueline for at least the next seven years," Kekalainen said in a statement. "As talented as Zach is and as much as he has achieved so early in his career, he is an even better person and will be a foundational player for our club as we move forward."
Werenski is still just 24 years old and scratching the surface. His 65 goals since 2016-17 (his rookie season) are third-best in the NHL during that span, and he's racked up 189 points in 335 games.
"I'm really excited and grateful to Mr. McConnell, J.D., Jarmo and everyone there for the opportunity to continue to be a Blue Jacket and be part of something that I think is going to be very special," Werenski said.
The city of Columbus has been so good to me, it's close to home and my family and as I thought about it, it was really a no-brainer. I'm a Blue Jacket. I want to continue to be a Blue Jacket and do everything I can to bring a Stanley Cup here."
Here are the contract details, as reported by Sportsnet's Chris Johnston:
2022-23: $2M signing bonus, $8M salary
2023-24: $2M SB, $10M salary
2024-25: $2M SB, $9.5M salary
2025-26: $2M SB, $7.5M salary
2026-27: $6.25M SB, $1M salary
2027-28: $6.25M SB, $1M salary
The deal also includes a full no-movement clause in the second through fifth years; in the sixth year, Werenski has a modified NMC with a 10-team approved trade destination list.
Werenski is one of the best defensemen in the NHL – now, he'll be paid like it.
Werenski hit the ground running once he was brought in from the University of Michigan, making an instant impact with the 206 Calder Cup-winning Lake Erie (now Cleveland) Monsters. Werenski set career highs in assists and points, as well as the franchise record for points by a rookie, with 11-36-47 in 78 games in 2016-17 to earn NHL All-Rookie honors while being named a finalist for the Calder Memorial Trophy. The following season, he notched 16-21-37 in 77 outings and made his All-Star Game debut. He appeared in all 82 games during the 2018-19 season and tallied 11-33-44 to hit the 40-point mark for the second time.