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Reports: Werenski, Jackets agree to 3-year deal

Defenseman Zach Werenski and the Columbus Blue Jackets agreed to a three-year, $15-million contract, according to multiple reports.

The deal is expected to be announced on Monday, and the restricted free agent will join the team for the start of training camp.

Werenski, 22, had 44 points in 82 games last season for Columbus, averaging a career high 22:54 per game. In three seasons, the Michigan native has blossomed into one of the NHL’s best young defensemen, with 128 points in 237 games and solid underlying analytics.

He was part of a restricted free-agent crop this summer that led to several negotiation stalemates around the league, as teams waited on other RFAs to sign their deals and set the market. Sources told ESPN last month that Werenski was waiting on Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov, both restricted free agents. Instead, he’s the one that sets the market.

The $5 million AAV on this contract gives Werenski only the sixth-highest cap hit on the Blue Jackets and puts him at No. 51 overall for active NHL defensemen. It’s a bridge contract, meant to bring Werenski closer to unrestricted free agency and the riches that it brings. But when it ends in 2022, Werenski will still have one more year of restricted free-agent status. His salary in the final year of his deal rises to $7 million, establishing a new floor for his next contract.

For the Blue Jackets, the contract means that both of their top defensemen have contracts that expire at the same time. Seth Jones, who has 228 points in 428 career games and has been Werenski’s frequent partner on the blue line, is an unrestricted free agent in 2022. But getting Werenski to sign at this salary cap hit, and with an arbitration eligible year left before unrestricted free agency, is being seen as a coup around the NHL — even if the agents for the league’s remaining young RFA defensemen might be cringing at the team-friendly financials.

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