After the contract was signed, after all the details had been hashed out – how the money would be allocated over eight seasons – Los Angeles Kings centre Anze Kopitar expressed both gratitude and relief that the extended negotiations were finally over.
The Kings and Kopitar made it official Saturday, signing an eight-year, $80-million (all figures U.S.) contract extension that will pay him $14-million next season in the first year of the deal, which will make him the highest-paid player in the NHL next season, just ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks' dynamic duo of Jonthan Toews and Patrick Kane ($13.8-million apiece).
The heavily front-loaded contract will then pay Kopitar $13-million, $12-million, $11-million in Years 2, 3 and 4 before dropping off in the final four years – to include two years at $8-million and two years at $7-million. Kopitar is 28 years old, so this amounts to a de facto lifetime contract for the greatest NHL player ever to emerge from Slovenia.
Kopitar also received a no-movement clause in the first four years of the contract and accepted a limited no-trade in the final four years.
His hope, Kopitar said Saturday, is to play out his NHL career with the Kings, a team he helped win Stanley Cup championships in both 2012 and 2014.
"It's obviously a great feeling and knowing that I can be a part of this team for years to come," said Kopitar, following a discouraging 5-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators. "It's something that I've expressed, throughout the process, that I'd like to stay here and as soon as its finalized its obviously some sort of relief and a very nice feeling."
Kopitar had been on the verge of signing the deal for several days, but it has hung up until Saturday morning as the two sides worked out the occasionally contentious details of the no-move, no-trade clause. Ultimately, though, there was a will on both sides – by the team and player – to get a deal done.
"I didn't really have any doubts," said Kopitar. "I was hoping that it was going to get done and I was leaning towards getting it done then doubting it, so I never really thought that far."
Post-game, Kings' coach Darryl Sutter suggested the contract extension for Kopitar "wasn't breaking news," and added: "Bottom line, guys like Kopitar, their best years are in front of [them]. Guys get rewarded for winning Stanley Cups. When they're with one franchise for that period of time, when you've won Cups, everyone's looking forward to the next part with him. He's worth every penny. You win championships with players like that, very clear; he's worth every penny."
Kopitar, the 11th player selected overall in the 2005 NHL entry draft, has scored 645 points in 725 regular-season games, and added 60 more points in 70 playoff games for Los Angeles.
The Kings now have their four core players signed to long-term deals (Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick and Jeff Carter are the other three). Starting next season, that quartet will gobble up a little more than $28-million in salary-cap space. That could force general manager Dean Lombardi into some financial tight-rope walking in the years ahead, especially when it comes to getting some of their quality younger players, such as Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson, signed to extensions.
But short-term, they are in good shape for another Stanley Cup push, and recently added both Luke Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier, a former Stanley Cup champion with Tampa, to depth roles. Lecavalier, recently arrived from Philadelphia, had high words of praise for his newest teammate.
"[Kopitar] is just so big and strong, but at the same time he's got the hands of a [Pavel] Datsyuk, so it's pretty amazing and impressive," said Lecavalier. "He's just so smooth, and a great leader, too. You never really know guys, like how they are in the locker room and stuff like that, but he's got that presence. Just the way when he talks, guys are really listening. He's a pretty complete guy, for sure."