Wednesday January 13th, 2016

Just hours after rumors hinted at a breakdown in talks, the Los Angeles Kings are on the verge of signing a contract extension with franchise center Anze Kopitar, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

The deal will pay Kopitar $80 million over eight years and make him the third-highest paid player in the NHL, behind only Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. The two Blackhawks superstars signed identical eight-year, $84 million deals a year ago.

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That’s a serious commitment to a player who has topped 30 goals twice in his career and 80 points just once, but Kopitar’s value could never fully be captured on the scoresheet. The 28-year-old is a textbook lesson in responsible, two-way hockey and a perennial contender for the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward. More to the point, he epitomizes the heavy brand of hockey the Kings want to play under coach Darryl Sutter. It’s hard to imagine that team winning a pair of Stanley Cups without Kopitar’s relentless presence on the top line.

In that light, it's money well spent.

But it’s not being spent in a vacuum. Not with Steven Stamkos still looking for a new deal of his own.

So, what might this resolution mean for the Lightning’s superstar forward as he steams headlong towards free agency on July 1?

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Hard to say. Although both players were aiming for similar paydays, they are dissimilar in dissimilar situations. Stamkos is a pure sniper, one of the best in the game. He went to the Cup Final with the Bolts last year but is still looking for his first title. At 25, he's two years younger than Kopitar but, arguably, more replaceable on a team that is loaded with young offensive talent.

But like Kopitar, Stamkos is a player who, if allowed to test the market, would generate eight-figure offers and a max seven-year deal.

So maybe Kopitar's new contract means something. Maybe not.

If nothing else, it reminds us that we don’t know until we know.

As recently as Tuesday there were whispers that Kopitar was unhappy that his own process was taking so long. One respected source went so far as to suggest talks had reached an impasse.

A few hours passed and here we are.

That the parties arrived at this happy resolution is no surprise. In fact, despite the sluggishness of negotiations, this result was all but inevitable. Kopitar loves it in L.A. and he made it clear he wanted to remain a King. The team, having already won two Cups with the help of the big center and with their sights firmly set on winning more, couldn’t possibly allow him to test free agency. The money was always going to be there. It was just a matter of assembling the other, smaller pieces of a challenging puzzle (most of which we aren’t privy to yet)

We can’t really say the same thing about Stamkos’s situation, though, can we?

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Sure, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman said that signing Stamkos was his top priority. And Stamkos has indicated that he loves Tampa and wants to win a championship with the Bolts.

But anyone who is adept at reading the tea leaves might arrive at a different conclusion.

Or not. The thing is, we don’t know. The blackout curtain erected around the talks by Yzerman and Stamkos’s agent, Don Meehan, has ensured that progress, if any exists, is hidden. So we’re left to scavenge for clues in social media or body language or real estate listings until one side or the other comes clean.

In other words, we’re in the dark with Stamkos, just like we were on Tuesday with Kopitar. It’s frustrating for fans, but as this deal proves, you never know when light might be just around the corner.

 

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