The fact that Anze Kopitar is about to sign a monster eight-year, $80-million (all figures U.S.) contract extension with the Los Angeles Kings does not fall under the heading of breaking news.
Kopitar is already building a massive mansion in Manhattan Beach – a compound, actually – that will accommodate his entire extended family, right down to his popular Goldendoodle Gustl (the dog has 4,252 Twitter followers).
For lifestyle as well as professional reasons, Kopitar had no desire to explore greener pastures elsewhere. He likes living in California and playing for the Kings, where he has been a central figure in their two Stanley Cup championship seasons, along with defenceman Drew Doughty and goaltender Jonathan Quick.
The Kings and the Chicago Blackhawks have won five of the past six Stanley Cup championships, and since deep championship runs generate significant additional revenues for NHL organizations, that winning pedigree counts for a lot.
It’s also why the new Kopitar contract, expected to be announced Friday, may have little impact on the negotiations involving the other key centre approaching unrestricted free agency this summer – Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos, who is not close to signing an extension with the Lightning.
There are some who link the two negotiations on the grounds that players of their calibre are usually locked up years before they hit the market. But upon closer examination, it really isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison.
Stamkos, at 25, is three years younger than Kopitar, but his team hasn’t had nearly the same success as the Kings or the Blackhawks, captained by another great centre, the much-admired Jonathan Toews.
Toews and Kopitar are annually in the running for the Selke Trophy which, while nominally awarded to the NHL’s best defensive forward, has really morphed into a way of acknowledging the game’s best two-way player.
And while Toews’s leadership skills are considered unparalleled in today’s NHL, Kopitar is a touch better offensively. He has led the Kings in scoring for eight consecutive years, and Darryl Sutter – a very hard coach to please – has long called him the best centre he’s ever had.
Stamkos has a different skill set. He is a far more gifted goal-scorer than Toews and Kopitar. In the current NHL, only Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and perhaps Joe Pavelski of the San Jose Sharks are in his company.
But as a rule, general managers tend to loosen the purse strings more for players who’ve led them to championships.
Stamkos was part of a Lightning team that made it to the Stanley Cup final last season, and he had a respectable run there, with 18 points in 26 playoff games, but he is still waiting for his first ring.
Stamkos could greatly enhance his market value if he was prepared to leave Tampa. That would change everything, and probably put him in line for a payday that exceeds what Toews and Kopitar earn. On the open market, Stamkos would be the most attractive forward to hit unrestricted free agency since Zach Parise left the New Jersey Devils to sign with the Minnesota Wild. Parise received $98-million over 13 years.
Under the current collective agreement, Stamkos could get a maximum term of seven years from a new team, but he could conceivably become the NHL’s highest-paid forward if he leaves, because the bidding for his services would be that intense.
There will be a handful of other unrestricted free agents out there – Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes hasn’t resigned either – but none as attractive as Stamkos, who, on top of being a good scorer, is also telegenic and marketable. Staal is currently earning $8.25-million on the final year of his deal, but he hasn’t scored more than 82 points in a season since 2007-08.
The Kings are back on track after missing the playoffs last year and seem as though they will coast to the Pacific Division title, which would be a first for them. In their Cup-winning years, they finished in the middle of the pack in the regular seasons.
Once Kopitar is officially in the fold, the Kings will have all their cornerstone players locked up, the same way Chicago annually does.
By contrast, Stamkos and Tampa are both approaching crossroads, where the urge to get a deal done probably trumps the dollar figure, which will be enormous, whichever way it goes. Should he stay or should he go?
For Kopitar, the decision wasn’t all that difficult.Report Typo/Error