Kings bet big on Kopitar’s consistency and excellence

Coming from a country of two million, Anze Kopitar's chances of going from Slovenia to the NHL were always slim. Check out the story of how he got motivated enough to become one of the NHL's premier centre men.

Anze Kopitar was only going to test the free-agent market if he absolutely had to. A long-term arrangement with the Los Angeles Kings always made the most sense.

And yet it took until the middle of January for the sides to officially sign off an $80-million, eight-year extension after a tricky, drawn-out negotiation.

The most significant number attached to Saturday’s contract announcement is 10 — as in the $10-million average annual value that again signals superstar status in the NHL.

The Kopitar camp had to work hard to get the Kings that high. Only Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, with matching $10.5-million cap hits, currently earn eight figures a year for the entirety of their deals.

Next year Kopitar will join them.

(So, too, will Steven Stamkos — at least we presume so — although his uncertain contract status is a topic best left for another day.)

The other key aspects of the Kopitar extension were payment structure and the no-trade protection. It’s a front-loaded, bonus-laden deal that calls for $9-million payouts both this July 1 and next.

He didn’t get true lockout protection like Brent Seabrook did on his recent extension — it was bargained away during an arduous negotiation — but the sliding rate of pay does ensure he’ll get the majority of his money even if there’s a work stoppage in either 2020-21 or 2022-23.

Kopitar’s immense value to the Kings is also reflected in the fact the organization awarded him a rare no-movement clause for the first four years of the deal (it becomes a seven-team trade list for the remaining four). As a rule, general manager Dean Lombardi avoids those like the plague — although when you have a special player like this one some rules need to be broken.

Kopitar’s career is a study in consistency and excellence. The only season among his 10 in the NHL where he didn’t finish as the Kings top point-getter came in 2006-07, when he was a 19-year-old rookie.

Ever since, he’s been the No. 1 centre on a team that twice won the Stanley Cup and could very well add a third title this year.

He’s defensively responsible, logs huge minutes and has been remarkably durable. Wayne Gretzky labelled him the third-best player in the world behind Sidney Crosby and Toews during the 2014 playoffs, and his play remains as high as ever now.

In short, Kopitar is the kind of player you bet big on and that’s exactly what the Kings have done by signing him to a maximum-length deal that puts up him under contract until just before his 37th birthday.

It’s fitting that they made him a $10-million man in the process. Prior to the introduction of the salary cap in 2005 it was a symbolic threshold for the best of the best to cross, with Jaromir Jagr, Peter Forsberg, Paul Kariya and Pavel Bure among those who did.

Committing that much to a player is an even more significant gesture in an era with a slow-growing cap because it’s not just about money. It’s about the money that can’t be spent elsewhere as a result.

No wonder it took so long for two parties who truly wanted to remain together to work through all of the particulars.

The guess here is that Kopitar will prove to be worth every penny.

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