The Los Angeles Kings have answered one of their most pressing questions by signing star forward Anze Kopitar to an eight-year extension worth $80 million. Well, I guess that answers one question, which was how they were going to fit Kopitar and his inevitably massive free agent salary into the team’s cap structure, but we’re still left wondering how the Kings are going to make everything work financially moving forward. I mean, having Kopitar locked up is great and all, but there still needs to be a roster around him, something the Kings don’t have much cap space to put together.
I don’t think I need to go into much detail about Kopitar as a player. We all know he’s really, really good, and while his production alone may not seem worthy of $10 million per season, there’s no questioning his elite two-way game and his importance to the success of the Kings.
Throughout his career, he’s consistently posted strong possession numbers, including two seasons, 2012-13 and 2013-14, in which he had an elite Corsi For percentage of 61.3 and 60.9 respectively. Actually, save for his rookie season back in 2007-08, Kopitar has always been a positive possession player, averaging a 55.6 Corsi For percentage and a 55.3 Fenwick For percentage over his career. This season has been the only one of his career in which he doesn’t have positive possession stats relative to his teammates, and that can probably be chalked up to the fact he’s making more defensive zone assignments than ever before.
So yeah, I think we all get it. He’s an excellent player, and without him, the Kings aren’t the same Cup contender they are right now. But is he worth $10 million for the next eight years?
Right now, yes, he is. Down the road? Probably not. But for a team positioned to win right now like the Kings, that’s okay.
Kopitar’s deal makes him the only player not named Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews (until Steven Stamkos signs a new contract this summer) with a cap hit of at least $10 million in the NHL. And speaking of Toews, the Blackhawks captain gives us a perfect yardstick to measure Kopitar’s new deal.
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.
Like Toews and Kane’s deals with the Blackhawks, this is a deal the Kings really had to make. It’s unfortunate that Kopitar isn’t taking some massive hometown discount to play in Los Angeles, but what he’s signing for really isn’t above market value for his pedigree as a player. When Chicago extended Toews and Kane to those massive deals, it was known that they were far from discounts, and while they did muck up the team’s cap situation, they’re also critical in maintaining the Hawks’ status as an elite team.
At a glance, this puts the Kings in a pretty ugly situation well down the road. But it’s not like that’s something they weren’t facing before this deal was signed. As Dimitri Filipovic pointed out, five years from now, the Kings are going to have roughly $32 million tied into Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick, and Marian Gaborik when all of them are well into their 30s, and more than likely past their prime.
Like I said, though, the Kings are in a position to win right now, and even if they didn’t sign Kopitar to this massive extension and they let him walk as a free agent, they still wouldn’t exactly have the nicest cap outlook moving forward. So since they’re already there, they might as well keep what they have going right now, rather than going half in and trying to remedy their financial outlook at the risk of ruining what’s already almost certainly going to be a contender for the next few years.
Yeah, this deal is probably going to look hideous when Kopitar is into his mid-to-late-thirties, but winning right now when the window of opportunity exists makes it worthwhile.