Anze Kopitar could be one of the biggest free agents next season, but there’s just about zero chance the Los Angeles Kings let their star center get that far.
Jon Rosen of Los Angeles Kings Insider reported this past week that talks between Kopitar and the Kings are, “expected to pick up steam,” throughout July and a deal between the two sides could be in place before the 2015-16 season starts.
But what, exactly, would a new deal for Kopitar look like? For the past few months, one of the main concerns for the Kings has been finding the cap space to avoid a situation like that which the Chicago Blackhawks have gone through this past summer – having to ship out talented players from a winning team due to cap restrictions that make it impossible to retain everyone.
This upcoming season, the Kings have roughly $6 million in free space under the $71.4 million salary cap. Next season, when Kopitar’s new deal would kick in, the club has $50 million committed to the cap with Kopitar, Milan Lucic, Jamie McBain and goaltender Jhonas Enroth as current players who would be unrestricted free agents next off-season. Paired along with the contract termination of Mike Richards, that likely gives the Kings the ability to have enough space to sign Kopitar, 28, long term at a significant raise. What that raise will be, though, is the question.
For the 2014-15 season, Kopitar is set to earn $6.8 million and is the second-highest paid player on the Kings roster. Only defenseman Drew Doughty, at $7 million, has a higher cap hit. In all likelihood, that’s set to change when Kopitar inks his new deal.
In looking at Kopitar’s worth, the best course of action is to find similar players, who are a similar age with roughly the same numbers. Over the past three seasons, there are five players with statistical similarities to Kopitar in goals for percentage, shot attempts for percentage and 5-on-5 scoring: Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Vladimir Tarasenko.
All six players have registered goals-for percentages above 60 percent, meaning when they’re on the ice, their team is scoring at least six of every ten goals at 5-on-5. They’ve also each had a shot attempts percentage above 55 percent and scored at least 90 points at even strength. They’re the only six players over the past three seasons to fall into each of those three categories, according to Puckalytics.
When it comes to dollar earnings, the easiest assumption is that Kopitar is in for a raise, one which will likely take him over the $7 million-mark. Using his closest statistical comparisons, and their contracts, we can surmise about what Kopitar could be seeking for an average cap hit.
Of the five skaters, three out earn Kopitar. Toews, $10.5 million, and Tarasenko, $7.5 million, make a significant amount more, while Bergeron gets an additional $75,000 per season. Marchand, at $4.5 million per season, has the smallest cap hit. Above Marchand sits Hossa at $5.275 million. Hossa’s deal, however, has paid him $7.9 million each season and will again in 2015-16. Next season, however, his contract back dives to $4 million in 2016-17 and $1 million from 2017-18 until 2020-21. Removing the $1 million years, Hossa’s contract is a $59 million deal over eight years, or $7.375 per year.
Using that figure, players in Kopitar’s statistical group over the past three seasons earn roughly $7.5 million per season.
With Kopitar, however, you get the added bonus of defensive excellence. Over the past five seasons, he has finished in the top-10 for Selke Trophy voting, with third, second and fourth place finishes over the past three campaigns. Similar players in that sense are Hossa, Bergeron and Toews. While award voting is subjective, it’s telling when he’s considered as an elite defensive player so often. Plus, the two Stanley Cup championships won’t hurt his bargaining.
Kings GM Dean Lombardi is wise enough to see the turmoil in Chicago and keep Kopitar from getting on the books at the exorbitant $10.5 million cap hit Toews carries, so that’s out of the question. But averaging more than Hossa does over his contract’s first eight years seems like a good possibility. And while Kopitar may not be the offensive dynamo that Tarasenko is, there’s a sound argument for Kopitar being the more complete player.
That stands to reason the magic number for Kopitar could be roughly $8 million, and it wouldn’t be shocking if he’s inked for at least six years at that number. With Doughty’s $7 million hit and $5.8 million sunk into netminder Jonathan Quick for the next eight years, Lombardi won’t want to get into the same trouble as Chicago. Once Kopitar is locked up, he’ll be the cornerstone forward for the Kings for years to come.