Throughout June, theScore will be projecting contracts for the star-studded restricted free-agent class. In this edition, we project Zach Werenski's new deal.
Over his first three NHL seasons, Werenski has proven to be an up-and-coming offensive defenseman. The Columbus Blue Jackets stalwart was a Calder Trophy finalist in his rookie year but has yet to have the type of breakout season many expected after his strong initial campaign.
Evidently, the eighth overall pick of the 2015 draft has the size (6-foot-2, 209 lbs), skating ability, and instincts to develop into a true No. 1 defenseman.
As important as Werenski is to the Blue Jackets, his contract isn't priority No. 1. Columbus has numerous pending unrestricted free agents, most notably Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Matt Duchene. While it doesn't appear Panarin or Bobrovsky will be returning, re-signing Duchene to a long-term deal seems realistic, so that negotiation will likely take precedence.
However, with all the departing free agents, Columbus is projected to have over $32 million in cap space. This means they could offer Werenski an eight-year deal. For a player his age, the longer the term, the higher the cap hit would have to be. In a perfect world, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen would get him locked up before July 1 so he knows how much money he has left to work with.
Here's a select list of defensemen to sign contracts out of restricted free agency over the last few years:
|Player||Cap hit||CH%||Length||Year signed|
|Esa Lindell (DAL)||$5.8M||7.3||6 years||2019|
|Shea Theodore (VGK)||$5.2M||6.54||7 years||2018|
|Noah Hanifin (CGY)||$4.95M||6.23||6 years||2018|
|Matt Dumba (MIN)||$6M||7.55||5 years||2018|
|Colton Parayko (STL)||$5.5M||7.33||5 years||2017|
|Aaron Ekblad (FLA)||$7.5M||10.27||8 years||2016|
|Seth Jones (CLB)||$5.4M||7.4||6 years||2016|
|Morgan Rielly (TOR)||$5M||7.0||6 years||2016|
CH% = Cap hit percentage, based on cap ceiling when the contract was signed
It's difficult to find comparisons. There aren't many defensemen who have produced at Werenski's level at such a young age. Hanifin is perhaps the most interesting comparison since he was picked three spots ahead of him in the draft. However, Hanifin produced just 83 points over his first three seasons compared to Werenski's 128.
Points are not the be-all and end-all for a defenseman, but at the very least, it's a starting point in negotiations. Fortunately for Werenski and his agent, there's a glut of handsomely paid blue-liners who have failed to match his production.
Werenski's contract could be dependent on how many UFAs the Blue Jackets bring back. If Kekalainen is able to re-sign Duchene, then he may prefer to sign Werenski to five or six years. If he can't re-sign any UFAs, then the available cap space may make an eight-year deal with a higher cap hit a suitable option.
Werenski's contract could also be affected by the deals his fellow RFA defensemen get - Boston Bruins blue-liner Charlie McAvoy and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov are up for new contracts. Whoever signs first will provide the best and most recent comparison for the other two.
For a deal in the six-to-eight-year range, the Blue Jackets could be looking at a cap hit as low as $6.5 million, and potentially as high as $8.5 million to lock up Werenski.
Verdict: 8 years, $66 million ($8.25 million AAV, 10.06 CH%)
Others in this series: