The Columbus Blue Jackets got their man this past Tuesday. The team came to terms with Zach Werenski on a contract extension that will pay him $15 million over the next three years. However, the restricted free agent defenceman’s contract will impact teams other than Columbus. Werenski is the first to sign of three restricted free agent defenders. His contract could determine the base of negotiations in Boston and Philadelphia as well.
How Zach Werenski Signing Helps Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers
Breaking Down NHL Free Agency
In order to understand the impact on other teams, we first need to fully understand how the NHL’s free agency circus works. Players are not eligible for the open free agent market until they are 27 years old or have played seven NHL seasons. If they are not eligible for open free agency when their contract expires, then they become a restricted free agent (RFA). If a restricted free agent is tendered a qualifying offer from his team, that player’s new contract becomes a one year deal worth the same amount he was paid the previous season, if he was paid over $1 million. The qualifying offer is worth more the less a player was paid the previous year.
Zach Werenski’s New Deal
Now let’s breakdown Werenski’s new deal. The contract is worth $15 million over 3 years. His annual salary-cap hit comes in at $5 million per season. That does not mean the team has to pay him $5 million each year. Werenski’s contract is structured so that he will make $4 million this season and next season. In the final year of his contract, the Blue Jackets will have to shell out $7 million for their young defenceman. Why one might ask? Werenski is only 22 now, he will be 25 when the contract expires, meaning he will be a restricted free agent once again. The deal is structured so he is paid more in the final year. The qualifying offer for Werenski becomes a one year deal worth $7 million.
The Zach Werenski Butterfly Effect
Now we take a look at other RFA defenceman situations around the league right now. Charlie McAvoy and Ivan Provorov are in negotiations with Boston and Philadelphia respectively. Zach Werenski ‘ s contract gives both players something they can base their next contract around. McAvoy could go to Boston and ask for a contract in the same range as Werenski because he feels he is just as important to the Bruins as Werenski is to the Blue Jackets. The interesting thing about this is how it is structured. These RFAs could ask for payment to be structured the same way Werenski did it, guaranteeing that they will be paid more when the time comes for their third contract. So this way, no matter what their cap hit becomes, they get an opportunity to earn more long term.
The signing of Werenski will also hopefully move things along more quickly for the other RFA defencemen. Now that the first player has signed, other teams have a basis to work from. Philadelphia can look at Provorov’s offensive statistics and tell him they won’t pay him the same $15 million over three years. Maybe due to the fact that he had fewer points over the 82 game season. They could pay him more because Provorov has more defensive value to the team as a whole. Either way, teams will use this as a starting point. They do not want to overpay a player and find themselves in a difficult salary cap situation down the road.