On Saturday, the Los Angeles Kings announced that star center Anze Kopitar had signed an eight-year contract extension to remain in Los Angeles for likely the remainder of his career.
The news didn’t exactly sneak up on anyone. Less than a month ago, I wrote that the Kings and Kopitar were close to a deal and to expect an announcement shortly. Others were reporting along the same lines.
Kopitar’s new contract
Eligible for an 8-year extension (on the open market, the longest he could have signed would have been seven), it was all but a foregone conclusion that Kopitar would re-sign with the Kings. The only real questions would be for how much money and the specifics of the contract itself.
Now we know. According to Darren Dreger, the deal breaks down as follows:
Kopitar year by year: $14 mil, $13 mil, $12 mil, $11mil, $8mil, $8mil,$7mil,$7 mil. No move clause immediately and first 4 yrs.
— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) January 16, 2016
Furthermore, TSN’s Pierre LeBrun reports that the deal includes two signing bonuses:
Kopitar extension includes $9 million bonus payment next July 1 and another $9 million bonus summer of 2017.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) January 16, 2016
The contract — a total of $80 million over eight years — is certainly not without risk for the Kings, who have more than their share of long-term deals on the books already. But is it fair?
Jonathan Toews vs. Anze Kopitar
The player Kopitar tends draw the most comparisons with is the Chicago Blackhawks’ Jonathan Toews. Toews, a three-time All Star, has already won the Conn Smythe Trophy (2009-10), the Frank J. Selke Trophy (2012-13) and three Stanley Cups, all while still being just 27 years old.
With three All Star appearances and two championships under his belt, Kopitar isn’t far behind. Given that Toews signed his mega-contract about 18 months ago, it’s about as close of a comparison as there is in the NHL. So how do the two compare?
Quite well, actually. Both are considered elite two-way forwards well within the primes of their respective careers. Toews has career highs of 34 goals (2008-09) and 76 points (2010-11); Kopitar’s biggest goal total was also 34 (2009-10), with a high of 81 points during that same season.
But wait, there’s more. Toews has already won the Selke Trophy, while Kopitar has been a finalist the past two seasons. Both have displayed superior puck-possession skills throughout their careers.
Cam Lewis broke it down in a piece over at NHLnumbers.com:
Over their careers, Kopitar and Toews have nearly identical production. Through 725 career games, Kopitar has produced 0.89 points-per-game, with his best season coming back in 2009-10 when he scored 34 goals and 47 assists in 82 games. Toews, who broke into the league one year later, has produced 0.88 points-per-game through 611 games, and his best season came back in 2010-11 when he scored 32 goals and 44 assists. So in terms of production, they’re neck and neck as both players saw a peak in their 23 and 24-year old seasons and have since dipped to a similar level.
Then moving a step further, they also have pretty similar underlying numbers too, as Kopitar has a 55.6 career Corsi For percentage, while Toews’ boasts a 57.1 Corsi For percentage. That said, Toews has generally made more offensive zone starts throughout his career and the Blackhawks deploy a more offensive style than the Kings do. Regardless, their 3.2 and 3.1 relative Corsi For percentages are nearly identical, so it’s fair to say that both Toews and Kopitar have similarly elite underlying qualities.
The only real difference between the two is that Toews is one year younger, so his deal kicked in at the age of 27, whereas Kopitar’s is going to begin at the beginning of next season when he’s 29-years old. Otherwise, getting Kopitar inked to an $80 million deal over eight years in a world where Toews is paid $10.5 million per year certainly isn’t unreasonable.
$80 million is a massive amount of money any way you slice it, so there are few who would argue that it’s a bargain for the Kings. However, the clear majority believe that given the Toews comparison, it’s fair market value and something the win-now Kings had to take care of while their championship core is still intact.
Matt Pelkey at Rinkside Royalty points out that Kopitar is second only to Sidney Crosby among players drafted in 2005 in points produced (886 to 645). The Mayor John Hoven mentioned that Kopitar is a stone’s throw away from Wayne Gretzky for sixth most goals in franchise history. Yahoo’s Ryan Lambert takes it a few steps further, proclaiming Kopitar to be the NHL’s best player:
… it’s very reasonable to say that Kopitar is not only the borderline-best forward in the league, but also likely to hold at least some sort of legitimate claim to that title for at least the first half of his contract.
And by that token, the fact that only Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have larger cap hits than he does makes the new contract seem pretty reasonable, all things considered.
The longer a championship-caliber team stays together, the more challenging the finances become. It’s Capology 101.
Per L.A. Kings Insider Jon Rosen, Los Angeles will be paying a total of $61.2 million to 16 players next year. With the NHL salary cap expected to approach $75 million in 2016-17 and with Milan Lucic, Trevor Lewis, Luke Schenn, Jamie McBain and others slated for unrestricted free agency (not to mention Brayden McNabb’s likely big raise as a restricted free agent), the Kings will have some tough decisions to make going forward.
The decisions are bound to get even more difficult as time goes by.
It’s all smiles on Twitter when it comes to Kings fan reaction:
— Peter Lithell-Eggum (@PeterEggum32) January 18, 2016
— Jeff Duarte (@JDStylz_) January 16, 2016
— PJ Wolfson Bernstein (@PattiJWB) January 16, 2016
Sunshine, puppies and Anze Kopitar for the foreseeable future? It’s a safe bet that right now, Kings fans sure do love L.A.
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.