Anze Kopitar and the elite center mega-contract

Puck Daddy
Anze Kopitar and the elite center mega-contract
Anze Kopitar and the elite center mega-contract

This is the summer of the Steven Stamkos rumor mill. We listen to his words. We parse through them. We then ultimately surmise he won’t sign a long-term extension with the Tampa Bay Lightning now and will go to Toronto in unrestricted free agency next summer. 

But there is another big name up for a new contract next offseason. A guy who – arguably – has had more success than Stamkos in his NHL career.

His name is Anze Kopitar. He’s a two-time Stanley Cup champion for the Los Angeles Kings – and the team’s first-line center. And he’s going to make bank … probably before the end of this summer with Los Angeles.

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Is he going to be the $12 million man like Stammer? Probably not. But we’ll find out soon enough how both the Kings – and Kopitar view their relationship. 

Said L.A. Kings Insider last week:

Though negotiations with Anze Kopitar over a contract extension are “just starting,” according to a source in Kings hockey operations, those talks are expected to pick up steam over the coming month, and there is optimism that a contract extension will be finalized this summer.

One of the reasons for the timing of the current contract push is that the Kings needed to finalize new contracts for a heavy crop of restricted free agents.

It seems clear that the Kings should pay Kopitar a lot of money, since that’s what you do for franchise-like talent. He’s going to be 28 next year. He has won two Stanley Cups. His puck possession numbers are monstrous. Elite first-line centers are impossible to find in this day and age. He’s entering the final season of a seven-year, $47.6 million. Think Jonathan Toews’ eight-year $84 million deal as somewhat of a framework.  

But is there a sign of decline with Kopitar? His 64 points last season were his lowest full-season total since his rookie year.

He failed to score 20 goals for the first time in his career in a full-season. A lot of this can be blamed on a slow start where he had 10 points in the first two months of the season – 21 games. Was he tired from LA’s Stanley Cup run the prior year? He was about to have a kid – which is indeed joyous but also stressful on a first-time parent. 

Players go through surges and dips most seasons, and Kopitar found his form eventually.

As L.A. Kings Insider notes in its player evaluation on Kopitar, there are some other causes for alarm than just the obvious.

Kopitar’s production at even strength fell well below previous marks set during his career, which is a bit concerning because he is in or approaching his prime. Perhaps due in part to the toll of last season’s playoff run and the challenging center match-ups, Kopitar’s .5 goals per 60 minutes was the lowest rate of his career, as was his 5.48 SOG/60. The struggles continued for much of the year on the road, where Kopitar totaled only four goals and 15 points in five-on-five play, and in 38 games overall compiled a minus-10 rating. For the first time in his career, Kopitar failed to score 10 even strength goals.

But he’s still a puck possession monster with a plus-5.4 shot attempts relative according to the NHL’s enhanced stats site. His shot attempts differential at plus-363 led all the league’s forwards.

So he’s still really, really good at puck possession even if he wasn’t as amazing as usual. 

But again, is this an indicator that Kopitar is starting to slow ... even just a little? That’s always important when signing a player to a long-term deal.

Also, if you’re L.A., how do you fit Kopitar in your complicated salary cap riddle? 

The Kings have a bevy of other unrestricted free agents set to hit the market in 2016 – most notably newly-acquired Milan Lucic. Plus, who knows what’s going to happen with the Mike Richards contract saga, and whether Los Angeles will get less cap relief than expected for his accused contractual breach. 

According to General Fanager, Defenseman Brayden McNabb is currently the Kings’ only restricted free agent next offseason, so that won’t be a major issue in 2016.

Kings general manager Dean Lombardi has been on an 80s 49ers kick of late, referencing the late, great Bill Walsh – the architect of those teams from that decade. He was famous for not giving crazy contracts to older players and cutting the cord with guys before they hit decline.

Again, Kopitar will get paid. Lombardi will reward him. But this isn’t a cut and dry – give him a blank check and infinite years – situation.

It does equal some thought and planning from the Kings. 

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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