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The drama has finally ended for Anze Kopitar and the Los Angeles Kings. No more waiting game. No more creeping tension. And most importantly, no chance that Kopitar hits unrestricted free agency this summer when his current deal is up.
Kopitar and the Kings agreed on an 8-year, $80-million blockbuster extension announced on Saturday, giving the 28-year-old center the third-highest cap hit ($10 million) in the NHL beginning in 2016-17.
(Well, temporarily. Unless Steven Stamkos accepts one hell of a hometown discount. “Hometown” to be determined …)
According to Darren Dreger, the contract is front-loaded with $14 million in the first year, and $50 million in total in the first four years. There’s an immediate no-move clause for Kopitar, as well as in those first four years.
However, in the $30 million back-end of the deal, the no-move becomes a limited no-trade clause: Giving Dean Lombardi a bit of flexibility should he decide to move Kopitar for any reason. (Those reasons include paying a $36-year-old forward $10 million against the cap.)
Kopitar made $6.8 million against the cap in his previous 7-year deal.
Things were getting a little tense as the season crept forward. We first heard about his discontent over a lack of a new contract back in October 2015. This week, there was a deluge of speculation about the negotiations from newsmakers like Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet and Dreger, who said the Kings were playing “a dangerous game.”
If this was a full-court press from Kamp Kopitar’s agents behind the scenes, it appears to have been the final push needed to get the sides to agree on a new deal.
The hang-up appears to have been over a no-move clause, with Dean Lombardi swallowing his business ethos and granting one to get'er done -- although one that gives him some options in the last four years.
(Of course, Kopitar would be wise not to sneeze in the general direction of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at the Canadian border should his production drop. Dean is crafty.)
It’s a gargantuan deal, one that will have Kopitar making $10 million against the cap when he’s 36 years old. But it’s a deal that makes sense within the nonsensical economic structure of the NHL, and one that the Kings had to make happen with their lynchpin offensive player.
Kopitar is a special player. He’s a top-line center who plays both ends of the ice masterfully, and would have a Selke by now if the voters watched the Western Conference. He drives possession. He makes plays. And he has 60 points in 70 playoff games, leading all playoff scorers in points in the two Kings’ Cup wins.
Plus, he’s great in the room, and not just because he has an adorable dog. Personally, the fact that he’s the face of Slovenian hockey is inspiring, and there’s not a moment he doesn’t seem honored by this.
But there’s obviously another skate to drop here for LA, and that’s the Kings’ salary cap going forward.
They’ll already have $6.8 million of that $10 million slot from what they currently pay Kopitar. They’ll clear Vincent Lecavalier’s money when he retires after this season: $2.25 million against the cap. So that’s a start.
The real question is whether they can keep Milan Lucic around while also handing out this contract to Kopitar. Looch will be a UFA. He’s going to have a line of suitors ready to overpay for his power forward game.
If the Kings are to sign Kopitar and keep Lucic, the solution begins with finding a way to clear that 31-year-old captain making $5.875 against the cap until 2022. And trading Dustin Brown is easier said than done, since he has a modified NTC and makes $7 million in salary next season. But retaining Lucic might necessitate it, as much as Dean loves him some Dusty.
That’s the fallout, but let’s examine the catalyst: How did they get to $10 million annually for Kopitar?
Clearly, neither side was willing to wait for Stamkos to raise the bar, which is probably for the best: He’s two years younger, a more dynamic scorer and is going to have his price inflated like a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon when he hits UFA status.
So the first comparison is Jonathan Toews. Kopitar has 230 goals and 415 assists in 725 games. Toews, 27, has 240 goals and 299 assists in 612 games. The former has two Stanley Cups; the latter has three.
Toews’ cap hit is $10.5 million, thanks to the contracts he and Patrick Kane signed with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The second comparison is with Evgeni Malkin. He’s 29, and he makes $9.5 million against the cap on a deal that began in 2014. He has 287 goals and 456 assists in 630 games. He’s a more dominant offensive player when he’s healthy; but there’s something to be said for consistently being in the lineup, and the Selke-level defense from Kopitar.
So the Kings essentially split the difference: $10 million annually, nestled in-between Toews and Malkin.
Too much money? Pound sand: Those are the economics of the NHL today, and Kopitar would be getting that money (and maybe more) from somebody this summer.
If the Kings wanted to keep him, as they damn well should have, that’s the price tag. And all parties should be thrilled they paid it.
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