The star centre signed an eight-year contract extension worth $80 million. The average annual value of $10 million per season makes him the third-highest paid player in the NHL — only Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will have higher cap hits at the start of next season.
Although his salary is far from a subdued number, the Slovenian still at times doesn’t necessarily get the respect he deserves. In fact, many in the game feel he is the most underrated centre out there.
Last year, Wayne Gretzky even described Kopitar as the best player in all of hockey behind only Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews during an appearance on Hockey Night in Canada.
Pacific Division rival Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks praised Kopitar in a writeup for The Players’ Tribune last year.
“We see him all the time, unfortunately. Because he combines size, strength and intelligence, he’s as difficult to play against as any player in the league,” Couture wrote. “When we’re up against the Kings, I try and play like him. He’s very responsible defensively and checks very well, especially with his stick. He’s one of the best in the league at anticipating where the puck is going and jumping in to cut off cycles.
“Offensively, his strength presents a problem. If he gets speed coming through the neutral zone, he’s tough to contain. I try to push him to the outside as much as possible. More than anything you have to take away his space. You can’t let him get his eyes up. If you give him a second on the puck to look up, he’s going to find someone in a dangerous spot.”
Kopitar was already among the top-paid centres in the NHL. His $6.8-million salary cap hit ranks 13th among centres currently. He’s in the seventh and final year of a $47.6-million extension he signed in 2008-09 and starting next season expectations for the 28-year-old will naturally increase.
With that in mind, here are a handful of players with similar contracts Kopitar will likely be compared to in the coming years.
Jonathan Toews, (Eight years, $84 million, $10.5-million cap hit)
Toews is the most obvious comparison to Kopitar. Both are elite, two-way players and perennial Selke Trophy contenders, both have led their respective teams to multiple Stanley Cup victories and, now, both of them are among the league’s highest-paid players. They also share an agent, Pat Brisson, who helped facilitate Toews’ massive extension. They also both play their best hockey when it counts most. Kopitar has 60 points in 70 career playoff games, while Toews has 102 points in 117 post-season contests.
Evgeni Malkin (Eight years, $76 million, $9.5-million cap hit)
No one is going to argue Kopitar is on the same level as Malkin when it comes to offensive ability — there are only a handful of players that can realistically claim to be in that stratosphere — but he’s just as important to the Kings as Malkin is to the Penguins. He might even be more valuable to his team when you consider that if he gets hurt the Kings don’t have a second franchise centre to pick up the slack like the Penguins do in Sidney Crosby.
Ryan Getzlaf (Eight years, $66 million, $8.25-million cap hit)
Both Getzlaf and Kopitar are your prototypical franchise centres, blessed with a perfect combination of size, skill and smarts. The Kings lucked into Kopitar when he fell to 11th overall in the 2005 NHL Draft, which in hindsight was a major steal. The same thing happened to the Ducks in 2003 when they managed to get Getzlaf at 19 (They also got Corey Perry nine picks later at 28. Geez, then-Ducks GM Bryan Murray killed it that year didn’t he?)
Sidney Crosby (12 years, $104.4 million, $8.7-million cap hit)
Crosby signed his deal prior to the league implementing its new limit on contract length — seven-year maximum on the open market, eight years for a re-signing — so although No. 87’s deal was bigger in term and total dollars, Kopitar has a higher cap hit. Kopitar has 35 points through 42 games this season, which is one more than Crosby’s 34 points.
Ryan O’Reilly (seven years, $52.5 million, $7.5-million cap hit)
O’Reilly is similar to Kopitar in the sense that his value isn’t determined solely on what his stat sheet looks like. O’Reilly has never averaged a point per game in any season in his pro career. Kopitar is more of a threat in the offensive zone than O’Reilly is, but he hasn’t accomplished that feat either.
Other cap comparables:
Claude Giroux, eight years, $8.275-million cap hit
David Krejci, six years, $7.25-million cap hit
Henrik Sedin, four years, $7-million cap hit
Paul Stastny, four years, $7-million cap hit
Patrice Bergeron, eight years, $6.875-million cap hit
Ryan Kesler, six years, $6.875-million cap hit
Mikko Koivu, seven years, $6.75-million cap hit
Nicklas Backstrom, 10 years, $6.7-million cap hit
Henrik Zetterberg, 12 years, $6.083-million cap hit