Anze Kopitar has been a vital cog in the Los Angeles Kings’ championship machine. And the team certainly would like to keep it that way.
Kopitar and the Kings have begun to discuss a contract extension, as the center’s current seven-year, $47.6 million deal is set to expire after the 2015-16 season. The veteran, who is eligible for an eight-year extension that would keep him in Los Angeles through 2023-24, will become an unrestricted free agent should the sides fail to come to terms on a new deal by July 1, 2016.
The first Slovenian-born player to appear in an NHL game, Kopitar has been sensational ever since the Kings selected him 11th overall in the 2005 draft. He currently ranks eighth on the franchise list in goals (218), sixth in assists (392) and seventh in points (610).
Kopitar burst onto the scene in 2006-07 by scoring 20 goals and setting up 41 others in 72 games for 61 points, the lowest total in a full season of his career. He began a string of three straight campaigns in which he played in all 82 contests, ending the stretch in 2009-10 with career highs of 34 goals and 81 points.
The 27-year-old finished with a positive plus/minus rating for the first time that season at plus-6 and netted a personal-best 14 power-play goals. His superb campaign was a major reason the Kings qualified for the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons.
Kopitar had another strong campaign in 2010-11, leading the team with 73 points despite suffering a broken ankle in March that ended his season. The native of Jesenice came back strong the following campaign, registering 76 points while playing in all 82 games.
A three-time All-Star, Kopitar followed up with a sensational postseason, tying teammate Dustin Brown for the playoff scoring lead with 20 points as Los Angeles captured the first Stanley Cup championship in franchise history. Following the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, he collected 70 points to lead the Kings in scoring for the seventh consecutive season.
Kopitar came up with another spectacular performance in the playoffs, leading all players with 26 points as Los Angeles won its second Stanley Cup in three years. This past campaign was a down one for both the Kings and Kopitar, as the team failed to reach the postseason and the star forward failed to reach the 20-goal plateau for the first time in a full season.
That should not at all factor in general manager Dean Lombardi’s decision to re-sign the three-time winner of the Bill Libby Memorial Award, which is given to the Kings’ most valuable player. He ranks third on the team’s all-time playoff scoring list with 60 points, trailing only Wayne Gretzky (94) and Luc Robitaille (89).
Lombardi will have several unrestricted free agents with which to deal before the end of June 2016, including newcomer Milan Lucic and Trevor Lewis. Securing the services of Kopitar beforehand would be one of the wisest decisions of the general manager’s career.
Along with Jonathan Quick, Kopitar is the face of the franchise in Los Angeles. Lombardi is hopeful of ironing out a deal by the beginning of training camp, which likely would allow Kopitar to end his NHL career exactly where it started.