Columbus, Ohio — The Columbus Blue Jackets signed defenseman Zach Werenski to a six-year, $57.5 million contract extension Thursday through the 2027-28 season.
The 24-year-old Werenski, from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and the University of Michigan, has 65 goals and 124 assists in 335 career NHL games, all with the Blue Jackets. He has four goals and nine assists in 29 playoff games.
“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,” Werenski said in a statement. “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.”
Werenski had seven goals and 20 assists in 35 games last season.
“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,” general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statementy. “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.”
More of Thursday’s NHL
Wild agree to terms with former Red Wings defenseman Jon Merrill
The Minnesota Wild agreed to terms Thursday with defenseman Jon Merrill on a one-year, $850,000 contract, the third veteran they’ve added to the blue line in free agency.
The 29-year-old Merrill had five assists and 70 blocked shots in 49 games last season, with the Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens. He was traded from the Red Wings in April to the Canadiens, who used the Oklahoma City native in 13 postseason games during their run to the Stanley Cup finals.
Merrill has 12 goals, 54 assists, 364 hits and 507 blocked shots in 405 career NHL games. The Wild will be his fifth team. He joins Alex Goligoski and Dmitry Kulikov as free agent defensemen additions, after the Wild bought out Ryan Suter, lost Carson Soucy in the expansion draft and let Ian Cole leave as a free agent.
► Saad to Blues, Perry to Lightning: Recent champs add winners
The St. Louis Blues inked Brandon Saad to a five-year contract and the Tampa Bay Lightning signed Corey Perry for two years Thursday as the two recent Stanley Cup champions brought in more winning experience on the second day of free agency.
The 28-year-old Saad spent last season with Colorado, putting up 24 points during the regular season and scoring seven goals in 10 playoff games. The winger counts $4.5 million against the salary cap on his new $22.5 million deal signed Thursday. Saad won the Cup with Chicago in 2013 and 2015 and is heading to his fifth NHL organization.
Perry signed a $2 million, two-year deal with Tampa Bay that counts $1 million against the salary cap annually. General manager Julien BriseBois expected to be done making moves Wednesday but said, “If something falls onto our lap that makes sense and improves our team and we can find a way to squeeze it in, we’re certainly open to exploring that.”
This certainly qualifies.
The 36-year-old Perry, who won the Cup with Anaheim in 2007, is joining the Lightning after losing to them in the final each of the past two seasons. Perry was with Dallas in 2020 and Montreal this past season.
He brings more grit to the Lightning, who lost forward Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman and defenseman David Savard in free agency and center Yanni Gourde in the expansion draft. BriseBois showed in signing free agents Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Zach Bogosian the desire to replenish some of that lost toughness.
″(Perry) brings with him a wealth of big game experience to the Lightning,” BriseBois said.
Saad and Perry each hoisted the Cup early on in their careers, and the chance to win again factored into their decisions this time around.
“Once you get a taste of it, that’s something that there’s no better feeling,” Saad said. “When it comes down to it, I wanted to go somewhere where you have a chance of winning and you’re going to have a successful team. The Blues fit that mold.”
The Stars are trying to get over the hump and win the franchise’s first championship since 1999 and are taking steps in free agency with that goal in mind. Dallas signed big defenseman Jani Hakanpaa to a $4.5 million, three-year deal and forward Michael Raffl to a $1.1 million, one-year contract.
Another Cup contender, the Colorado Avalanche, signed forward Darren Helm on a $1 million, one-year contract. Minnesota added defenseman Jon Merrill, a teammate of Perry’s with Montreal, on a one-year deal worth $850,000. And the New York Rangers agreed to terms with 21-year-old restricted free agent forward Filip Chytil on a two-year contract.
The Rangers continued their goal of getting tougher by acquiring enforcer Ryan Reaves from Vegas for a 2022 third-round pick. Since Tom Wilson injured Artemi Panarin, New York has fired President John Davidson and GM Jeff Gorton, promoted Chris Drury to fill both jobs, traded skilled forward Pavel Buchnevich, signed big defensemen Jarred Tinordi and Patrik Nemeth and acquired Reaves.
The Columbus Blue Jackets invested in the future of their blue line by extending Zach Werenski for $57.5 million over six years and signing Jake Bean to a $7 million, three-year contract.
But the action is not over yet. The Buffalo Sabres are still in talks with other teams about trading captain Jack Eichel. GM Kevyn Adams said the team has to make the right deal at the right time but made no secret Eichel is very much in play.
“We’re open on all our players, as I’ve said over and over again, and Jack in particular,” he said. “We’re not in a position where we feel that we’re just going to do something to do it. That doesn’t make any sense. But those conversations are continuing.”