Anze Kopitar was selected 11th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2005 draft, also known as the “Sidney Crosby Draft.” The pick worked out for the Kings, who won Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014 with Kopitar as their top-line center.
The Slovenian native has delivered a huge return on investment, but now the Kings find themselves looking forward to the future. Their former core may not find a place in that– especially with Kopitar’s $10 million cap hit. Today we’ll examine what a return for Kopitar would look like from each Western Division squad.
West is Key
If you kept a close eye on the Ian Cole/Greg Pateryn swap, you would have noticed the mode of transportation. Cole, who was traded from the Colorado Avalanche to the Minnesota Wild, was originally set to take a team bus from L.A. — where his team was playing — to Anaheim to join Minnesota on their road trip. The bus was then going to pick up Greg Pateryn, and drive back to Los Angeles. Two birds, one stone.
The plan was eventually scrapped, as Colorado was unable to make their team bus available. Private transportation services won the day, with a pair of luxury cars sending the two defensemen in opposite directions.
The point of all this effort was to avoid the dreaded “unfit to play” label that we’ve seen tagged on so many names who breach COVID protocols one way or another. By trading within the division, and working out an airtight transportation system, the Wild were able to get Cole suited up for a game just one night later against the Ducks. Inner-division trades should be the norm in this wonky season– which means the Kings are bound to the West Division.
Kings Return Should Include a Defenseman
The Kings have arguably the best prospect system, aided by the likes of Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte, Tobias Bjornfot, Gabriel Vilardi, and Arthur Kaliyev. The issue is, only one of those players is a defenseman.
Bjornfot is the Kings’ top D-prospect, and probably their third-best prospect overall. The 19-year-old Swede could eventually be a top pair defenseman. However, the Kings’ defensive pipeline is thin after that. If a star like Kopitar is heading out, L.A. should target a young defenseman.
Not All Teams Make Sense for a Kopitar Trade
There exist very few players for which every team would have an interest in trading for. Mix in a $10 million cap hit, and you only complicate things further.
There are seven other teams in the West, and several of them are rebuilding. As a result, not all of them would really want to trade for Kopitar. Also, some teams might have interest in Kopitar but don’t have any players the Kings would want or could afford in exchange.
With that said, mock trades never hurt anyone.
GAR Gives Perspective on Value
One catch-all statistic for hockey players is GAR (Goals Above Replacement). GAR is slightly favorable to WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in baseball. This is because the margin of WAR between a good player and a bad player is very small. Alternatively, GAR makes it a bit easier to conceptualize the magnitude of a player’s impact.
If you’re not familiar with GAR, consider this brief example. If Sidney Crosby had a GAR of 9.0 for a season, and Claude Giroux had a GAR of 6.0, the Penguins are three goals better off throughout the season with Crosby than they would be with Giroux. Alternatively, if you were to just cut Crosby and replace him with the best free agent available, you’d expect the Penguins to be nine goals worse off. That’s exactly what GAR stands for: goals above replacement.
Anze Kopitar is still an extremely skilled player. His biggest drawbacks come in the form of his age and his contract. The 35-year-old has a $10 million cap hit through the 2023-24 season: he’ll be 38 when the deal expires.
According to Evolving Hockey, Kopitar had a GAR of 11.2 in 2019-20, a 6.8 GAR in 2018-19, and a 15.1 GAR in 2017-18. Over those three seasons, his average GAR was 10.03. This is very impressive: any GAR in the double digits suggests an elite player. However, Kopitar’s already 35 years old.
The takeaway on his value: Kopitar is an elite player whose value is very high right now, but only going to drop.
Mock Trade: Jamie Drysdale, Ryan Getzlaf – Anze Kopitar, Bjornfot, 2022 1st Round Pick
Of all LA’s opponents out West, Anaheim is the least likely to trade for Kopitar. The Ducks are openly rebuilding, and have $0 in projected cap space. The only part of Anaheim that somewhat fits is a positional need: the Ducks are already set in net and on defense.
Drysdale is the Ducks second-best prospect, trailing only Trevor Zegras. He was drafted 6th overall last summer and has a huge ceiling. He is by far the most valuable player in this mock trade.
Getzlaf carries almost negative value at this point. The 35-year-old center had negative GAR the past 2 seasons, suggesting a replacement-level player (someone who could be acquired at no cost) would have been more effective in his role. This is a huge drop off for Getzlaf, who is an eight-time All-Star and won the Stanley Cup as a rookie in 2006-07. He has one year left on his $8.25 million cap hit. Moving his contract is the only reasonable way to make space for Kopitar’s $10 million.
Bjornfot was drafted 22nd overall in 2019 by the Kings. L.A. used the Toronto Maple Leafs’ pick from the Jake Muzzin trade to select the 6-foot Swedish defender. If Anaheim were to ever cough up Drysdale — which is an unlikely scenario — they would need a future top-pair defenseman in return. Bjornfot looks to be just that and would slide in nicely to an Anaheim system already littered with strong defensemen.
The Kings would also have to add in a draft pick or another prospect, as Drysdale carries far too much value in this deal. A 2022 first-round pick could make sense: the Kings would need to pay big for Drysdale but their 2021 pick is likely to end up a lottery pick. By 2022 the Kings should improve a bit and their first-round draft pick is less likely to end up in the lottery.
Anaheim is easily the least fitting team for a Kopitar trade out of the Western squads. The Ducks are not ready for a “win now” mentality and certainly can’t afford Kopitar’s deal. Moreover, Getzlaf would have to approve the trade, as he has an NMC (No Move Clause).
Mock Trade: Clayton Keller – Anze Kopitar, 2021 2nd Round Pick
The Coyotes seem to be turning a corner on their rebuild, but still have some work to do before they contend for a Cup. The Yotes boast a whole lot of young talent and lack a true number one center. This makes them a somewhat sensible landing spot for the likes of Kopitar.
Keller was drafted seventh overall in 2016 by the Coyotes. He’s had three full seasons in the NHL. He scored 65 points, 47 points, and 44 points in each season respectively. After his 65-point rookie season, when he boasted an impressive GAR of 6.4, Keller hasn’t been able to return to such elite form. One thing to note is that Keller played 12 fewer games in his third season (44 points) than he did in his first two, due to COVID. Thus, he was on pace for 51 points. Still, that’s far off from the 65 he put up in 2017-18.
This trade works on some levels but certainly hinges on a lot of unknowns. For one thing, this trade would really only make sense if the Coyotes had given up on Keller the way they did with former third overall pick Dylan Strome. Additionally, Arizona would have to be convinced that they could win now– or suddenly care about selling some more tickets — to give up a young stud for an aging vet.
Mock Trade: Conor Timmins, Nazem Kadri, Brandon Saad, 2021 2nd Round Pick – Anze Kopitar, Alex Iafallo
Colorado is by far the most likely squad to have interest in Kopitar. The Avalanche have the best salary cap situation out of any team, and are a legit contender.
The Avalanche have a plethora of young defenseman. Sam Girard, Bowen Byram, Ryan Graves, and Devon Toews are all a part of the Avs’ defensive future. As a result, they likely wouldn’t mind parting ways with Timmins if it gives them a better chance to win a cup this year.
Kadri is getting replaced by Kopitar as the Avalanche second-line center in this hypothetical situation. He would have to be shipped out to make cap space for the giant contract of Kopitar, who eats up 12.3% of his team’s cap.
Saad would be included in this deal only for cap relief, as he has one year left on his $5 million deal. The Kings wouldn’t mind taking the $5 million cap hit since it’s only for one year, and the Avalanche would have to dump this cap to make room for Kopitar. Saad, a nine-year NHL’er who averaged an astounding 13.23 GAR from 2013-2017, has dropped off the in the last three seasons.
Since 2017-18, Saad has averaged a measly 2.13 GAR in three seasons. The drop-off in his production coincides with Saad being traded back to Chicago. Ever since that move, he’s struggled mightily. Saad would be considered a negative asset in this deal, and the Avalanche would be happy to pass along the money they’re paying him.
Iafallo is an interesting trade chip for the Kings. The 27-year-old has a sneaky good GAR: an average of 5.3 over his three seasons in the NHL. He also only counts for $2.425 against the cap in this final year of his contract. Iafallo would be an upgrade over Saad for half the money, albeit only for a year.
Colorado would have to supplement a second-round pick, as Timmins isn’t quite a top-tier prospect– though he’s not far off. Out of all the trades, this might be the most realistic.
Mock Trade: Ryan Suter – Anze Kopitar
We’ve arrived at our first 1-for-1, and it comes at the service of Ryan Suter. The workhorse defenseman is coming off of an impressive season which saw him log a 10.8 GAR figure. Over the past three seasons, he’s averaged 8.37 GAR-per-year. Not too shabby.
Suter and Kopitar are very similar players: they’re both on the tail-ends of successful careers, but remain effective. Kopitar’s cap hit is a bit higher, but Suter is a year older. It’s been a while since Minnesota has had a bona fide number one center: Kopitar could be just that.
San Jose Sharks
Mock Trade: Brent Burns – Anze Kopitar
This trade is extremely similar to the one with the Wild. Burns is 35, like Kopitar. At just $8 million per year, Burns is a tad more affordable. However, his contract is even longer than Kopitar’s, which balances things out.
Burns is a peculiar case. He was once a forward but found more success scoring from the blue line. He is a below-average defender but has amazing offensive metrics.
Burns would actually help with two problems for the Kings: their lack of scoring and their lack of quality defenseman in the pipeline. Burns is certainly a temporary fix, but he could eat a ton of minutes while the Kings wait for their defensive prospects to catch up to their offensive ones.
St. Louis Blues
Mock Trade: Brayden Schenn, Marco Scandella – Anze Kopitar
St. Louis was a tricky team to work out a trade for. They don’t have many candidates to ship out for cap relief, with the most obvious being Schenn.
Schenn, who makes $6.5 million all the way through the 2026-27 season, is the Blues’ second-best center Ryan O’Reilly, who is likely untouchable, as he was just named captain. Schenn also used to play for the Kings, before they traded him to the Flyers back in 2011.
Schenn, 29 years old, has found his game over the past few years in St. Louis. It’s hard to see St. Louis moving on from him, or Schenn waving his NTC, but the only path to a Blues Kopitar trade is through him.
Scandella would likely have to go to. He is the only defenseman with enough cap hit fit Kopitar that the Blues would let walk. At $3.275 per year, the 30-year-old blueliner would be a casualty of this center swap.
Vegas Golden Knights
Mock Trade: Max Pacioretty, Brayden McNabb – Anze Kopitar, Mikey Anderson
Vegas fits a similar archetype to St. Louis: both are cup contenders who don’t have much cap room to spare for Kopitar. As a result, Vegas would have to send some big money back to L.A.
It’s no secret that the Golden Knights are considering shipping out Pacioretty and his $7 million cap hit. It’s hard to see Kopitar suiting up in gold and black without Pacioretty heading back the other way.
McNabb was stolen from the Kings in the Vegas expansion draft. He has played some important minutes in the Knights’ playoff runs, often paired with Nate Schmidt. Similar to Scandella in the Blues’ mock trade, McNabb would fill L.A.’s defensive need while clearing some salary for the incoming Kopitar.
Anderson is a solid young defender who might go back the other way to balance out the value a tad. As a result, L.A. is able to upgrade their defense while Vegas upgrades their offense.
Vegas is an extremely unlikely suitor for Kopitar because they are in a tight salary cap pinch. If a deal ever did happen between these squads, L.A. would likely have to retain some salary.
Kopitar Trade is Unlikely
In all reality, the Kings are unlikely to trade their captain. For one thing, Kopitar has a seven-team MNTC (Modified No-Trade Clause). This means if the Kings ever wanted to trade him, Kopitar would first submit a list of seven teams he is willing to be traded to. The other 24 squads are off the table for a trade.
If the Kings are ever going to trade him, they have to do it soon. Kopitar will turn 36 this offseason, and his value is going to drop off soon. In all likelihood, Kopitar will stick around as a role model for the young wave of Kings.
Dante Giugliano is a Sport Analytics Major at Syracuse University, set to graduate in 2022. Giugliano has analytical and coding experience, which he blends into his writing. A hockey player since age 4, Giugliano still plays at Syracuse. He previously worked for Rookie Road as a Senior Content Creator.